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Gila River Vegetarian Baked Beans {Cook the Books}

This round Rachel, at The Crispy Cook, selected Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver for our October-November Cook the Books project. I had read the book years ago, but happily cracked the cover again for this. Besides, I was reading with a different focus than before.

This time around I was searching for inspiration in these pages that would send me to the kitchen. I felt slightly handicapped in that I am cursed with a black thumb. I can't keep any plants alive. None. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Even the ones that people swear "can't die." Trust me, I can kill anything. Needless to say, I don't have a garden. But I do get farm-fresh fruits and vegetables weekly through our CSA box and from friends who have fabulous green thumbs.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is, as its subtitle suggests, the tale of a year-long food experiment. Novelist Barbara Kingsolver and her family leave Arizona for a family-farm in Appalachia. They commit to only consuming what they themselves can grow, purchase from local farmers, or barter from neighbors with few exceptions. 

Her locavore ideas are not new, but she does weave a compelling story about how she and her family embraced these basic tenets of Slow Food International: good, clean, fair food for all. And she gives her book the natural momentum of a changing calendar.

As I mentioned, I used the bounty from our CSA box, and some friends, to create this Cook the Books dish. I had gotten some dried, organic Gila River beans from Coke Farms, in San Juan Bautista, through WECooperative. I read that these particular beans were discovered a native American site, that dated at 1500 years ago, in a cave along the Gila river in Arizona. The seeds were found in a pottery jar sealed with pine sap. I haven't verified this story, but if it's true, that's very, very cool.

Start by soaking and cooking your beans. Click for a how-to: here. I was slightly saddened that the gorgeous coloration of the beans faded after cooking. Nonetheless, I knew they would still be delicious.

Gila River Vegetarian Baked Beans
by Camilla for Cook the Books
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 2 red peppers, deseeded and chopped
  • 1 onion, peeled and diced
  • splash of olive oil
  • 1/2 C organic ketchup (I used the homemade ketchup my boys made this summer)
  • 1 T ground mustard
  • 2 T raw honey
  • 1/2 C organic coconut sugar
  • 1/3 C fig balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 C organic mushroom broth
  • dash of ground smoked paprika
  • freshly ground sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper

And a shout-out to some local food-producers who helped make this dish possible: the apples and peppers were from Fogline Farm in Soquel (thanks, Johnny!); the honey was from Country Flat Farm in Big Sur (thanks, Peter!); the salt was harvested by Monterey Bay Salt Company (thanks, Bob!); and the tomatoes in the homemade ketchup were from Belle and Randy.

Preheat the oven to 325. In a large thick-bottomed pan, cook the apple, onion, and peppers in a splash of olive oil until the onions are translucent and the pepper and apples softened. Add in the other ingredients, stirring to combine completely. Place in a baking dish and cover with foil. Bake for 2 hours. 

I served these with oven-roasted ribs and fresh coleslaw ...these are not the exact dishes I served - since I never make anything the same way twice - but you get the idea.

Well, that's a wrap for this round of Cook the Books. Next time we'll be reading Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gail Parkin. That's a new one for me. Can't wait!


  1. Those are strikingly beautiful dried beans. You've inspired me to grow some beans to dry in my next year's garden and get out of my go-to-canned-beans rut! Thanks for this great Cook the Books submission!

  2. That's the thing about beans-so pretty dried but they lose it all when cooked. ;-) Great post! I share your black thumb--although maybe mine is dark grey because I can manage a few herbs. Your beans look amazing--I love the apple-onion-pepper combination!

  3. Such pretty beans! I have been meaning to make baked beans for a while: thanks for the inspiration.

  4. The dry beans are so colorful, and I love the idea of using apple for a little sweetness. Very nice!

  5. Great with the homemade ketchup and the local products. I doubt that you have a black thumb!

    1. Ha. Thanks, Debra. But, no, really, I DO have a black thumb! ;)


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