Got Beans? Make a Pot of Chili!

Unlike the mysterious run on toilet paper—no pun intended there—when folks found out that they may have to "shelter in place" for several weeks due to the coronavirus, it made sense to stock up on dried goods that can last in the pantry for at least that long. As local food missionaries Katherine Deumling of Cook With What You Have and Jim Dixon of Real Good Food have preached from their respective pulpits, you can cook up a pot of beans at the beginning of the week and use the beans in several different dishes, or whip up a big batch of one dish to divide and freeze for later.

My recipe for chili takes a middle road, cooking the beans separately from the meat and chile sauce. The beans versus no-beans in chili seems to depend on whether you hail from north of the Mason Dixon or to its south, but there are also cultural elements at play, not to mention the most important indicator: how your mom made it. Me, I grew up with beans in chili, but because I'm a natural contrarian, sometimes I just feel like keeping the two unsullied until they consummate their union in my bowl, showered with the happy blessings of chopped sweet onion and grated cheese.

I'm also not doctrinaire when it comes to the type of beans to use. I've even been known, in straitened moments, to use canned kidney beans, but my preferences run to heritage varieties like cranberry or scarlet runner, or organic Borlotto Gaston from Ayers Creek Farm. The night before, put three-quarters of a pound of beans in a pot, cover with water by one inch, put a lid on the pot and leave on the counter to soak. The next day, drain them, put them in a pot, cover them with fresh water and cook on the stove until tender, or you Northerners can drain the soaking water and add them to the chile sauce to simmer with the meat.

Beef Chili

For the chile sauce:
6 dried ancho chiles, seeded and torn into pieces
2 dried cayenne chiles, seeded and torn into pieces (optional)
3 1/2 c. boiling water
1 Tbsp. cumin seeds, toasted (see below)
2 Tbsp. (6-8) garlic cloves
4 tsp. oregano
1 Tbsp. smoked Spanish pimenton
2 Tbsp. paprika
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. salt

For the chili:
1 large onion, chopped in 1/2" cubes
2 Tbsp. flour
3-4 lbs. chuck roast, cut in 3/4" cubes (pork shoulder also works)
2 bay leaves
1 qt. roasted tomatoes, or 28-oz. can whole tomatoes
Salt

In a small, dry frying pan over medium heat, toast the cumin seeds briefly, stirring constantly, until they release their aroma.

Place the torn chile pieces in a heat-proof bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Soak for 30 min. until they are soft and pliable. Drain them, reserving the soaking water, and place them in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Add remaining ingredients (including the toasted cumin seeds) and 1/2 c. soaking liquid and process till smooth, gradually adding the remaining soaking water.

Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium high heat. When it shimmers, add the chopped onion and sauté until tender. Add flour and stir continuously for up to 2 minutes until the flour loses its raw taste. Add meat, chile sauce, tomatoes and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Stir occasionally, adding water if it seems too dry. Add salt to taste.

Serve with cooked beans and rice on the side, along with finely chopped sweet onion and grated cheese to sprinkle on top.

Farm Bulletin: Open Days, and a Tally of the Harvest

I was thrilled to find the latest farm update from contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm in my e-mail in-box this morning, detailing the results of the year's harvest. Please make plans to attend at least one of the open days outlined below. Your holiday table will thank you!

Autumn with his cold and wet demeanor came stomping about early, necessitating careful staging of the harvest. We have accommodated his early entrance and are now in a good state of affairs, able to schedule the remaining open days of the year. We will be open next Saturday and Sunday (9 & 10 November) from 2 to 5 p.m. We will also be open the Sunday before Thanksgiving (24th), as well as the 8th and 22nd of December.

Ayers Creek Borlotti Gaston.

The tomato harvest came to an abrupt end three weeks earlier than last year and we lost all of the zolfini and Dutch Bullet beans; sometimes a farmer has to walk away from a soggy mess rather than try to salvage a harvest of inferior quality. No point in that, tears at the heart worse than simply turning it under. There is fine crop of wheat sprouting there. We do have a few left over from 2018. Fortunately we have a good crop of Borlotti, Wapato Whites, Tarbesque and Purgatorio.  We will have Roy’s Calais flint and Peace, No War cornmeal, and whole kernels for hominy. Pumpkin seeds, cayennes and the small grains also fared well. We are able to shrug our shoulders and admit that this was a much better year than last.

My nephew and his favorite squash.

Among the fresh goods, we will have plenty of Sibley squash, beets, spuds, melons, apples, big white onions and greens. Late August, we planted a mix of bok choi, napa, daikon and turnips as a soup green mix for our own table. We had enough seed to plant about 1,000 feet, so 1,000 feet were planted as it was easier than cleaning out the seeder. We will bag up some as a field run mix. We have dubbed it the Rorschach mix, because there are so many ways you can approach the vegetables. You can pickle them, or use them in salads, stir-fry or soups. Whatever suits the moment and your character.

We have, essentially, run out of preserves, so don’t expect any until the 24th of November. We should have a full selection on the 8th of December if you are looking for Christmas gifts.

Inspiration for a bean label.

The good Borlotti crop inspired a new label (top photo); funny how that works. Carved from a cherry block, it was inspired by the lettering of Hector Guimard's signs for the Paris Metro stops. A similar lettering style graced the cover of the Modern Jazz Quartet's album Concorde (1955), over a photo of the Place de la Concorde. Preparing tomorrow’s breakfast, take a moment and listen to Sigmund Romberg’s "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise" as performed on that album. The opening bars are a canon from Bach’s "The Musical Offering" with Percy Heath taking the theme on the double bass, and Milt Jackson (vibraphone) and John Lewis (piano) working the counterpoint.

The whole album is a masterpiece.

Dried cayenne peppers.

A new label for the Ayers Creek Cayenne is in the queue. It will be in the Arabesque style carved from a block of shina, Japanese basswood, the same wood as used for the barley label. The asymmetric leaves of our cayenne are very beautiful, and we have a bunch carefully pressed as models. The softer wood carves and prints differently. Shina also chips slightly as the knife moves across the grain, which provides a softer effect. A bit more difficult to carve as a result. American basswood is another wood available. As an aside, King City, Oregon is home to McClain’s Printmaking Supplies, an excellent resource for those of us who are attracted to the medium. They are exclusively mail order.

Queue up Tom & Jerry performing Beethoven’s "Turkish March" as an inspiration for the cayenne label? Nah, a mouse is already used for the flint corn label, and we have no appetite for a copyright infringement claim. To our knowledge, Tom and Jerry never performed an Arabesque anyway.

Grinding the partially dried cayennes.

On the matter of the Ayers Creek Cayenne, we had an excellent crop this year, both in terms of quantity and quality. We have been working with this cayenne for a decade and a half, teasing out its best qualities. The effort has paid off as the fruits is now well-characterized and no longer erratic in quality. They are an amiable companion in the kitchen with a fruity complexity, very much a pepper of Oregon. The “fresh” cayennes measured 13° Brix out of the field, and after two weeks on a rack, the fruits had risen to 23° Brix as the sugars continued to develop and concentrate.

This year we sold some fresh to our restaurant accounts but we much prefer selling them dried. That said, we process fresh cayennes for our own use. We remove the seeds and placental tissue, run the fruits through a meat grinder, salt at 2.5%, and let the mash ferment. When it has aged for a few months in the garage, we will run the ferment through a food mill to remove the skins, then add some vinegar to extend and stabilize the resulting sauce. In the meantime, a jar of the fermented mash is always handy in the refrigerator.

Cayenne seeds and placental tissues.

The caps with placental tissue and seeds attached are beautiful, worthy of an ancient mosaic. It is not strictly necessary to remove these parts of the fruit, but they are where most of the heat resides and are inconsequential contributors to the overall flavor. Moreover, the corky fiber of the placental tissue detracts from the texture. We find the lighter dose of heat makes the pepper easier to use and savor, fresh or dried.

We also make an oil flavored with the cayennes. The dried cayennes are stripped of the cap, seeds and placental tissue, cut up into 1-inch (25mm) pieces. For a quart of oil, we use a quarter pound or so of prepared peppers (100 grams per liter). The oil is heated to 150 to 160°F (60 to 70°C), the heat is turned off and the cayennes are added, steeping until the oil cools. We have used raw sesame oil, grape seed oil and sunflower oil. The result is a beautiful red cayenne oil. Because of the high sugar content in the fruit, do not overheat the oil as you will end up burning the sugars.

L to R: dried cayennes: cayenne oil; ground peppers; fermented sauce.

The oil extracts the fat-soluble carotenoid pigments and aromatics from the flesh. The water soluble components remain in the fruits; specifically the dark anthocyanin-based pigments and the sugars, and these move to the front of the flavor profile. After draining the oil, we run the peppers through a meat grinder to make a separate condiment. The anthocyanin pigments in the ground peppers lend a pleasant touch of bitterness that plays well against their sugars, reminiscent of bittersweet chocolate. 

The photo (above) shows the deseeded dried fruits, the oil, the ground dry peppers after the oil is drained, and the fermented fresh fruit. At the open days, we will have samples for tasting.