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Growing the Best Organic Heirloom Beans

Fine Cooking Issue 51
Photos: Amy Albert
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Tom Phipps grows more than fifty varieties of heirloom beans on his organic farm in Pescadero, California. Though the flavor differences between the varieties are subtle, the beans are beautiful to look at, and they’re prized by chefs and home cooks alike for their fresh flavor, creamy consistency, and firm texture.

“Beans are what they eat,” says Phipps, noting that a bean’s variations depend as much on where it’s grown as on its variety. He knows that there are many more varieties to be discovered, but that not all will thrive in the mineral enriched coastal soil on his farm.

After twenty-five years of bean farming, Phipps has become something of a bean guru, though it happened by chance. “I started with just a few varieties, but then people began wanting more than just pinto beans,” he says. “They started requesting this or that bean and bringing beans they’d found in faraway places, asking me to find out about them and grow them.” In the process, Phipps has learned plenty of lore behind the beans, which can go by different names, depending on where they grow. “A lady from Minnesota once called asking, ‘Do you have Goose beans?’ For years, I looked and looked for Goose beans, and finally found out it’s a type of white bean, probably wild, that migrant geese eat. One day her husband brought home a goose he’d shot. This was the bean they found inside.”

To learn more, visit Phipps Country Store & Farm.

Colorful beans with colorful names

Borlotti beans, fresh from the pod.
Autumn Bounty beans.
Cranberry Mix (a Phipps specialty).
Calypso beans.


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