By Archie P. McDonald
We often spend summer vacation in southwest Colorado in the famed Four Corners area. We are not the first to discover the summer pleasures of the region. Millennia before, people we know as Anasazi took over that territory from even more ancient nomadic hunter/gatherers, learned to live in permanent Cliff Dwellings like those extant at Mesa Verde, and cultivated crops such as corn, squash, and beans.
We found commercialized descendants of those beans in the City Market in Pagosa Springs. They look for all the world like a pinto bean crossed with a paint horse. What I mean by that biological impossibility is that an Anasazi bean is the size and shape of a pinto bean, but is colored in reddish-brown/white patterns similar to the hide of that multicolored equine. And like the animal, no two beans are colored the same way.
Intrigued by their appearance, we bought a bag and cooked them. As usual, cooking changes things. The beans lose most of their clashing colors, although a faint outline where red met white survives. The serendipitous reward, however, is best. The Anasazi bean cooks faster and lingers slightly sweeter on the pallet than its pinto cousin.
So naturally, I had to know more about this bean and its producers. Here's the story:
archeologists found the dehydrated ancestors of my beans in pots while exploring thousands of historic sites in the region;
experimenting with germination, they discovered that the spark of life had lingered inside the beans for centuries and water could germinate it into new crops—I tried this myself, and the result is a bush bean, with a smaller pod than regular pintos; and
American entrepreneurial spirit being what it is, the Adobe Milling Company of Dove Creek, Colorado, turned this resurrected food source into a commercial crop.
Now I learn that I am not supposed to say "Anasazi" anymore. Turns that that is a pejorative in Navajo used to mean "enemy ancestors" or "ancient people who are not us."
O.K. Let's call them "Archie's beans," either because, A, some folks say I am "full of beans," or B, I like 'em so much.
Archie P. McDonald is a professor of history and Community Liaison at Stephen F. Austin State University. His commentaries are also featured each Friday morning on Red River Radio.