There is a long tradition of cowboy beans in Texas. Pinto beans hold a special place in Texas history and culture. The word “pinto” translates in Spanish to painted and describes the lovely mottled skin of the bean. Look closely at them the next time you see them. They really are quite lovely.
Dried beans originated, as I understand it, in South America and Africa and slowly moved northward. The Spanish and Mexicans were introduced to them from the indigenous South Americans, Mexicans and Native Americans. Their hardiness, shelf stability, portability as a dried commodity, low cost, and nutritional profile made them critical and indispensable in the region.
And anyone who has been here long enough has either grown up on them or grown to love them. They cannot be overlooked as one of the oldest known foods to be consumed in the region and still, they are one of the least expensive things you can put on the table. Some that grow up with the staples of frugality run from them in later life. Some derive immense comfort from them for a lifetime. Some of us learn about our parents’ world through these foods for the first time as adults and they become a window to another time. I can’t state it any more eloquently than Patricia Sharpe did in this recent Texas Monthly piece. This is a great bit of writing that expresses how a meal this simple really can be a touchstone.