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Beans, glorious beans

by Emma Alpaugh on December 1, 2009

in Food

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Blog post and images by Emma Alpaugh.

I was recently hired to do the photography for an exciting new book in the Timber pipeline—a book on heirloom beans by the incomparable Steve Sando. Many of you may have already heard of Steve Sando and his company Rancho Gordo. He has made big splashes in the media this past year, appearing in everything from The New York Times to Bon Appetit. Thomas Keller swears by his products, and you can find his beans, corn and grains in gourmet markets nationwide.

Steve is an advocate for growing and cooking new world foods (foods that were first discovered in the ancient Americas). He grows heritage, hard to find varieties that are above and beyond the average pinto-type we are accustomed to. Not only are these varieties visually stunning and jewel-like, they are also incredibly flavorful, possess interesting textures, and truly taste of quality. Steve’s mission is to reintroduce these foods into everyone’s kitchen and diet; after tasting quite a few beans in a short period of time, I must say I’m a believer. His new book will share all of the growing and preparing information one needs, accompanied by detailed images for identification.

The shoot took place in Napa Valley at Steve’s home (I know, I know, the things I must do to “take one for the team”). Imagine a simple California ranch style home on sprawling land with mature trees, corn crops, fruiting cactus plants, chickens, and cascading grapevines. With crisp sunny November weather, the scene for the shoot was splendid.

I shot pounds and pounds of beans. Here are a few varieties that are striking:

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The most exquisite tacos I have ever tasted, thanks to Steve’s culinary talent. In the mix: eye of the goat beans, sautéed wild mushrooms, cotija cheese stuffed into grilled corn tortillas, topped with avocado and homemade hot sauce. He makes meals like this with his eyes closed, sigh.

Wild Mushroom Tacos

Who doesn’t finish a meal with cactus fruit to cleanse the palate? The combination is sweet, tart, and even a bit grassy.

Cactus Sorbet

Steve was one of the most hospitable people I have ever met. His passion and knowledge of all things food and gardening is going to make him one dynamite Timber author. Stay tuned for more on his book.

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