In some light they are a dull charcoal difficult to spot if the pods shatter onto the ground. Sometimes they appear shiny black or opalescent. Somehow black teparies appear to have an antiquity about them–mysteriously harking back to a time rich in prehistory. Tia Marta here to tell you a little about the black tepary bean’s odyssey back into cultivation and into the cooking pots of Southwesterners once again.
Back in 1912, before WWI and the rapid plunge the “remote” Southwest unavoidably took into East-Coast food fads, there was a crop survey done of the many types of tepary beans being grown and used by different Native American families and communities throughout the Borderlands. The diversity at that time was astounding—some 40+ different colors, forms, sizes, speckles, of tepary beans were reported. Within about a decade there remained only a couple of dominant tepary colors—“red” (an orangy-brown) and white. [For more history, check out Volume 5, No.1 of Desert Plants Journal published by the University of Arizona CALS. Specifically this issue is devoted to tepary beans, and includes an article by yours truly.]
The neat thing about cultivars that are still genetically close to their wild ancestors is that they still contain a diversity of genes that can “pop out” occasionally as visibly different seeds. In the case of the teparies, every so often in a harvest of white teparies, for example, there may turn up a few coral pink, or blue speckled, or even black beans. At the University of Arizona’s Maricopa Experimental Farm, an amazing crop researcher, Mike Sheedy, was, for several years growing teparies to isolate some of these genetic “sports”. He used assistance from his kids (In farming, child labor rules just can’t apply) to help pick out the odd-ball seeds from hundreds of pounds of harvested teparies. Over the years, he grew the separated colors in isolation from each other to preserve color purity. Before research funds ran out he had “re-created” an ancient lineage of black teparies—i.e. he has assisted the ancient genes to come again to the fore, to bring the “invisible” genotype back into the “visible” phenotypes. At termination of his research project he generously donated the black tepary collection to the traditional Pima farming family of Ramona and Terry Button.
Now—tah-dah!—at last black teparies are in agricultural production on ancestral lands! The public can purchase these little food gems of antiquity now at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH store (3061 N Campbell Ave, Tucson) www.nativeseeds.org , at the Flor de Mayo booth at Sunday St Philips Farmers Market www.flordemayoarts.com , or online via www.ramonafarms.com.
Black teparies are very different in taste from the red or white teparies—although all teparies are much richer than their more distant cousins like the common bean, lima or black-eye pea. Black tepary, schkug ba:wĭ of the Tohono and Akimel O’odham, is the deepest, nuttiest of all, with an earthy bouquet and a slightly bitter after-note reminiscent of coffee. Well, you will just have to try your own taste buds on them!
The public will have an exciting opportunity to taste black teparies prepared by none other than our beloved Tucson Chef Janos Wilder (of Downtown Kitchen fame) at the upcoming Farm to Table Picnic feast at Mission Garden, Sunday afternoon, October 18, 4-6:30pm. Janos is not letting on what his special black tepary recipe will be, but we can be sure it’ll be sensational. [The picnic is by pre-registration only so buy your tickets soon! Online purchase is via the Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace site www.tucsonsbirthplace.org.]
All of the heirloom foods served at the Farm to Table Picnic are being grown (even as I write) locally in Baja Arizona, either at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH Conservation Farm in Patagonia, or at the Mission Garden itself, or by sponsoring farmers and ranchers such as BKWFarmsInc, the 47-Ranch, and Ramona Farms. Some of Tucson’s best chefs are donating their skill and time to prepare different dishes for us. It will be a great opportunity to put the fun in fundraising for two worthy local non-profits, to share the delicious tastes of our heirloom foods of the Borderlands, and to share community joy in what we are able to produce together locally.
For adventuresome cooks, dessert addicts, and chocoholics, I would like to share two variations on brownies made with—yes, you guessed it—black tepary beans! You will not believe how yummy these are.
First, cooking black teparies (as with all teparies) takes some time—and premeditation. The day before you want to use them, sort, wash, and pre-soak your black teparies. I hit them with a quick boil and let them sit overnight to hydrate slowly. Change the water the next day, adding fresh drinking water. Simmer until soft (it may take 2-3 hours on stovetop or 4-6 in crockpot). You want them beyond al dente in order to puree them in a blender or CuisinArt for the following recipes.
Muff’s Gluten-free Black Tepary Bean Brownies-Cockaigne
1 cup cooked and pureed black tepary beans
1 stick butter= ¼ lb= ½ cup butter
5 Tbsp dark 100% cocoa powder, unsweetened (1 oz.)
¼ tsp sea salt
1 cup organic cane sugar
1 cup loose organic brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs well-beaten
¼- ½ cup nutmeats (I use pinyon nuts to keep the Southwest theme)
Directions for Muff’s Gluten-free Black Tepary Brownie-Cockaigne:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8×8” baking dish and place a wax paper cut to fit the bottom of pan. Melt butter (preferably in top of double boiler). Stir in thoroughly 5 Tbsp dark unsweetened cocoa powder. Let the mixture cool. Add sugars and sea salt to mixture and beat until creamy. Add vanilla. Beat 4 eggs and add to mixture stirring until uniform in color. Add 1 cup pureed black teparies and hand-mix. Pour batter into greased bake pan. Sprinkle top of batter with pinyones or other nutmeats. Bake 45-50 minutes until it tests done with toothpick. Cool pan on a rack. Cut in small squares to serve because it is so rich and moist. Enjoy their delicious flavors AND the healthy qualities of high protein/high complex carb teparies, protein-rich eggs, and the benefits of dark chocolate!
My next black tepary brownie recipe was first inspired by food-writer and “Blog-sister” Carolyn Niethammer’s recipe found in her book Cooking the Wild Southwest (p.133)–a must-have in every SW cook’s kitchen shelf. Here I’ve made some interesting gastronomic additions…including the use of our fantastic local heirloom White Sonora Wheat flour, crushed wild chiltepines, and Mano y Metate’s fresh-ground Mole Dulce powder produced by our local Molera herself, Amy Valdes Schwemm.
“Hot-Dam”* Black Tepary Brownie Bars [*in the best sense of the expression]
5 Tbsp unsweetened 100% cocoa powder
½ stick (1/4 cup) melted butter
¾ cup organic cane sugar
¾ cup org brown sugar, not-packed
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp vanilla extract
¾ cup pureed cooked black teparies
¾ cup organic heirloom White Sonora Wheat flour**
3 or 4+ crushed wild chiltepin peppers*** (number depends on your desired picante level)
¼ tsp sea salt
1-2 Tbsp Mano y Metate ground Mole Dulce powder
2 Tbsp raw pinyon nutmeats
** Freshly milled White Sonora Wheat is available at our Flor de Mayo booth, Sunday’s St Philips farmers market (www.foodinroot.com). Call ahead for quantities larger than 1 kilo—520-907-9471.
***whole wild-harvested Chiltepines are available at the NSS Store, 3061 N Campbell, and at Flor de Mayo booth, Sunday St Philips farmers mkt. Chiltepin plants to grow can be purchased at NSS plant sales.
Directions for “Hot-dam” Black Tepary Brownie Bars:
Pre-heat oven to 325F. Grease 8×8” baking pan with wax paper set in bottom. Melt butter and mix powdered cocoa in thoroughly. Add the brown sugar and organic white sugar and vanilla to the butter and cocoa, and beat. Beat 2 eggs and stir thoroughly into the choc/sugar mixture. Wisk in ¾ cup pureed black teparies. Sift together: ¾ C white Sonora wheat flour, ¼ tsp sea salt, and the well-crushed chiltepin peppers. Stir dry ingredients into liquid mixture. Add pinyon nutmeats. Pour batter into bake-pan. Sprinkle 1-2 Tbsp of Mole Dulce powder on top of the batter. Bake 25 minutes or until it tests done (when fingerprint pressed on top springs back). When cooled, cut into small bite-size squares to be served with hors d’oeuvre picks—you will see why…..(and don’t rub your eyes after eating.)
Tia Marta is hoping you enjoy these fruits and flavors of the Sonoran Desert assisted by fruits of tropical North America—a marriage made in dessert-Heaven! With every bite we should be thanking ancient tepary farmers, and the recent ones who have brought back the Black Tepary from near genetic-oblivion.
Coming this week to Tucson is a food event not to miss: the Farmer to Chef Connection, this Wednesday, September 16, at Tucson Community Center, 12:00noon-5:30pm, sponsored by LocalFirstArizona. Google their site for tickets and come enjoy a smorgasbord of local tastes.
Also be sure to mark your calendar for October 18 and join NativeSeeds/SEARCH and Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace at the very heart of Tucson’s Birthplace –the Mission Garden at the base of A-Mountain—for the first-ever outdoor Farm to Table Picnic. It will be a feast to remember. Make reservations now and we’ll see you there for fun, flavor, history and friendship!