Monday, June 13, 2011

Farm girl makes beans.

Growing up in Grand Island Nebraska, I didn't get a lot of access to good Mexican food.  I know this will shock you, but the heartland of America goes to Mexican restuarants called "Carlos O'Kelly's" and feels they've had Mexican food.  Now, while the midwest can farm with the best of em, they don't do beans like they ought to.

Part of my interpretation of "farm living" involves being able to provide for yourself and for your family in a sustainable and self sufficient way.  So i know cooking refried beans doesn't scream "farmer" to most people, but to me its a sign of one's ability to sustain ones self.

About a year ago, Luis and I took two families out to buy groceries with some money that we were given by our church with the understanding that we would use it to "feed the hungry in Tucson and beyond."  We chose to meet the families we were helping personally and take them shopping ourselves.

The first family was a mother and daughter.  Both were overweight, neither could cook.  They bought poptarts, milk, frozen dinners, ground beef, bread, chips, prepared foods, hotdogs etc.  There were literally zero vegetables in the whole cart.  Looking at what they bought i remember thinking they were going to rot from the inside.  I also thought we had bought them food for about a week.  The cart was about 1/4 full.

The next person was a woman from Mexico who was referred to us by her pastor.  She bought a five pound bag of rice, a ten pound bag of beans, milk, eggs, flour, salt, whole chicken, onions, jalepenos, a HUGE bag of fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes, corn flour etc.  Her items filled the cart about 2/3 full.  They were cheaper than what the other family had bought so she was able to get so much more stuff.  Looking at her groceries i thought this woman could probably eat for more than a month.  Nothing was threatening to expire or give her diabetes or jack her up on sugar.  It was all whole food.

I remember leaving that store thinking to myself: for the most part, America cannot cook to literally save its own life.

So at that point I committed to whole foods and cooking from scratch as often as was practicable.  Now this isnt to say we never eat out or have frozen pizza because we do.  But i dont want my kids growing up thinking that food comes from a box.  This respect of food is what lead me to want to "farm" in my back yard.  I want my kids to know where their food comes from and to be able to prepare it for themselves.  I want them to be healthy and not in college chowing down on poptarts because they cant take care of themselves.

So, beans.  My husband is Mexican, if you didn't notice.  Beans are big for him.  Also the kids love them.  I never liked them growing up, but i always had them out of a can. In the last 7 months or so, i have made a pot of beans once every other week or so.  We keep the container in the fridge and it usually feeds us for about a week.  Sometimes as a main dish, sometimes as a side. either way its all good.

So below are my instructions on how to make refried beans.  Please be aware i am very white, so if this isnt how YOUR nana makes them, i'm sorry.

 First you need dried Pinto beans.   I buy a 4lb bag for about $4.

Measure out about 1lb.  If you dont have a kitchen scale it comes out to just over three cups of beans.  If you do have a kitchen scale, remember to 00 it out after you put the bowl on or you'll have way too few beans!

Rinse them off, make sure you didn't get any rocks.
Next you boil your beans.  I just put in water enough to go about an inch over the tops of the beans.  I also put in two bay leaves because i feel like i should.  I don't know how necessary that really is.

I am told its bad to salt the water at this point because it keeps the beans from getting creamy in the middle.

Also i boil them covered on med-high heat.

It will take about 3 hours to make them be fully cooked.  You might want to have another activity planned for that time period cause that's a long time to be hanging out staring at a pot of beans.

When they are done, take them out and strain them, reserving the cooking liquid.  put the pot back over the heat (med high still) and put down a fat that isnt butter.  Sometimes i go veggie oil, sometimes i go with bacon fat (which i keep in my fridge after we make bacon for breakfast. yes im a crazy person).  Saute some garlic in your fat (i go with 4 cloves) for about 30 seconds. then throw down a spoon full of beans and mash em with a potato masher.

take out the bay leaves too. ima dork.
Keep doing this one spoonful at a time until you have a bunch of smashed up sorta dry looking beans. Oh and between each spoonful of beans i'd sprinkle in some salt. I like to put in some crushed red pepper too but i dunno how you feel about that.  By the end you should have added salt about 7 times and come out to a total of about 2 tbs of salt.  More less to taste. whatever.

Then after you have your crumby mashed mass, you add back your cooking liquid.  I usually end up putting it all back in, but if you like your beans drier you might want to do less.

I find that you always should put in more liquid than you think you need because it soaks back into the beans when you store them. so unless you want dry beans later, more liquid is good.

When you are done, you'll have about a quart of beans.  In case you wonder what that is compared to a normal can of beans, check it out:

Its about three times as much.  Its a lot of beans.  Unless you are my family, then its not really enough beans. I make them Sunday night, they are gone by Tuesday.

But together lets do the math: a can of refried beans it about $1.  It takes three cans to make a quart of beans. That means it will cost you $3 to make what i just made right there.  My four pound bag of beans cost me $4.  So basically it takes 1.33 batches of beans for them to "pay for themselves" in a sense.  

And, on the even more awesome side, you can say you made your own beans.  you'll have a pretty easy and reasonably healthy snack laying around all the time.  And your husband will love you even more! Mostly if your husband is like mine!

Anywho, for me farming was about all things sustainable, and cooking is such a necessary skill it kills me that most of America has lost it.  Ask yourself: Could you cook to save your life?


  1. Your shopping excursion reminded me of a Dr. Oz episode in which he went undercover bagging groceries. Only one person recognized him and that was the lone person who bought fresh veggies. Everyone one else purchased snack food and prepared meals that came frozen, canned or boxed. These items, according to OZ, have the highest profit margin for the store, while the fresh stuff they often loose money on.

    Kudos to you and Luis for being part of the national effort to reach out and educate America that they're better eating options than what mainstream America currently consumes.

  2. Ahhhh... I wish you would have posted this BEFORE I made my beans last night1 I was so proud of myself for makin my own beans but I see now, and last night when I was done, that my beans are gonna be dry. I could tell when I plopped them into their keeper bowls they were dry. I shall give my self credit for it being my first attempt and try and do better next time. Also I salted mine while they were boiling.....I will try it differenly next time. I did put in the onion as well and I do like that part.

    In my own defence I must add that I made beans frequently when you were a child. I just didn't re fry them..... Your Dad was from Tenn. and he ate his beans straight out of the pot with fried potatoes and fresh onions and corn bread. Another culture, another recipe.

  3. Your next step is homemade tortillas!!!!
    Ps Cooking your beans with a couple strips of bacon or a small ham hock gives them more flavor

  4. I've tried tortillas before but i had a bad recipe i think, they came out poorly. You know a good one?

  5. Katie I am very sorry to tell you this but I am Mexican and we don't measure things so my recipe is FANTASTIC but goes like this: take a big bowl of flour add backing powder (depends on how much flour but add about how much you remember your nana adding that one time) add salt (usually same as prior ingredient but add more than you think because they never have enough salt lol ask my dad) a couple and full of lard and then add really hot water till the dough is just right......idk if that helps lol but next time you are in phx I will be happy to show you :)