The Hunt for Mexico’s Heirloom Beans, a New Yorker Magazine feature written by Burkhard Bilger and published 4/23/2018, starts and ends with eating. Thanks to my Teotitlan del Valle friend Scott Roth for sending me this article, lengthy but worth the time to read.
For northern North Americans unfamiliar with bean culture, we think of this legume as filler, to be mashed, seasoned, dipped into with a tortilla chip, pushed aside or preceded with a Bean-O pill to cut intestinal gas.
Eat your lima beans, I remember my mother saying. Ugh. It wasn’t until much later, when I learned to cook fresh limas, that I began to appreciate the oft-maligned bean.
For Mexicans, where the bean originates, it is a staple of life, high in protein and flavorful in its pure and simple state of existence. Cook it simply in water and salt, says Rancho Gordo heirloom bean maven Steve Sando, and you will love the taste and texture.
Here in the south of the United States of America where I have lived for the past thirty years, the traditionalists gravitate toward black-eyed peas and collards. This is especially true during New Years, when the black-eyed pea is center stage on every table to signify a new year of abundance. I’ve even seen the tradition carried to snow-bound climes by southerners yearning for a bit of home.
Out west where I grew up, my family’s preferred bean was pinto, always industrially grown and originating from a sixteen-ounce tin that my mother could easily open with her electric can opener. With contents dumped into the Farberware two-quart saucepan, gas burner turned to high, the beans were ready to serve in minutes to accompany the chewy, gray-center ground sirloin she called hamburger, if they didn’t burn first.
I used to think that black beans were a gourmet delight when I started living in Oaxaca in 2006. I used to think that big, plump beans were better than dwarf-like varieties. Little did I pay attention to the fact that the bigger the bean, the more likely they are to be genetically modified. I didn’t realize that there are almost as many varieties of beans in Mexico as there is corn, based on regional differences and genetic adaptation to soil and climate.
In December 2017, I wrote a blog post, Union Zapata Hosts Biodiversity Fair in Oaxaca. Native corn, squash and beans took center stage. I went there in search of red, purple, yellow, and blue corn. I left with a deeper appreciation for what it takes to sustain a traditional milpa — the bean, corn, squash native agricultural growing exchange that provides complex protein intake for indigenous people.
Here is my challenge: Think about your own experience about beans growing up. Add your memories in the comment section. Share your recipes. Treat yourself to some real beans!
Rosca de Reyes and Three Kings Day in Oaxaca
Here in Oaxaca the tradition is to celebrate Three Kings Day, Dia de los Reyes, January 6, with gift-giving to the children. Godparents visit the homes of godchildren, godchildren come to the homes of godparents.
Rosca de Reyes topped with candied fruits, stuffed with plastic Baby Jesus
They will present a Rosca de Reyes, that translates to wreath of the kings. They sit down to a cup of steaming, frothy hot chocolate, locally made, tear off a piece of Rosca, dunk, sip and eat.
Hard to tell what’s under wraps here.
Surprise, the sweet egg bread covered in candied fruit, is stuffed with little plastic Baby Jesus dolls. Whomever gets one in their piece of bread gets to host the Candlemas party on February 2, forty days after Jesus’ birthday. There will be a lot of parties around here. The dolls are plentiful. Forty is a magic number.
A gift-wrapped Rosca de Reyes, Mexico’s colors
Is this Mexican Christmas? Three Kings Day occurs twelve days after December 25, when the astronomers, called Magi, gave gifts to honor the birth of Jesus.
A stack of Rosca de Reyes, simpler version, still yummy.
Mexico has an amazing cycle of festivals occurring with regularity around the calendar, moving from one season to the next, opening and closing Christmas, moving into the Easter season with Lent and Carnival. It seems that there is not a week of respite here.
Another version of Rosca de Reyes, topped with a sugar dough crust
This is a country of celebration.
Today in the Teotitlan del Valle market, bakers of Rosca de Reyes proudly displayed their artisanry. They came from here, from Tlacolula and from Santo Domingo near Tule. Some gave out samples to lure customers. It worked for me.
By 10:30 a.m. almost all the Rosca’s were sold out and bakers folded up their tablecloths. The best, made with egg bread, called pan de yema, went first.
Selling Rosca de Reyes in the Teotitlan del Valle market. This is a BIG ONE.
The bread makes a great gift, if I don’t eat it all! And at 30 pesos each for a small one, it’s a real value. That’s about $1.50 USD for handmade edibles.
Tortilla sellers in the open air Teotitlan market
Toy and clothing sellers filled the market, too. Many were families visiting from the USA who bring things to sell to help cover their travel expenses.
Berta selling ingredients for Sopa de Guias
Sopa de guias, squash vine, squash blossom, squash and corn soup, is a specialty this time of year, too. All the ingredients are available at various stalls.
Fresh greens are an essential part of the diet here.
Some of the ladies bring their produce from the town of Benito Juarez, high on the mountain about an hour from here. They lay out their blankets, top them with produce, and sit, shucking corn and cutting vines.
Teotitlan del Valle Iglesia Preciosa Sangre de Cristo
It’s warm here now. Daytime temperatures are in the low 70’s Fahrenheit, and it dips down to about 48 degrees at night. Skies are clear blue. It’s a perfect place to be in winter. Please visit us.
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Food & Recipes, Teotitlan del Valle
Tagged Christmas, Dia de Tres Reyes, Kings Bread, Mexico, Oaxaca, Rosca de Reyes, Teotitlan del Valle, Three Kings Day