It’s crisper air, even when the mercury hits 95. It’s harvesters working tomato fields outside Banta, corn rows growing golden off East 11th Street. It’s a lower light in the afternoon and a faint bite of cool at night. It’s a sense that schoolyards will soon host cakewalks, giant gourds, hay bales and scarecrows.
And, in our corner of the Central Valley, it’s walking through downtown during the annual Tracy Dry Bean Festival.
That party begins today — and, at least for me, so does fall.
It’s worth noting, though, that navy bean soup and Rotary-pulled beer weren’t always synonymous with the first days of autumn.
The festival conjured to celebrate the “Dry Bean Capital of the World” — our Hamlet by the Highway, if you were confused — only began 22 years ago, though its roots dive much deeper.
Just as the Delta fields flanking Stockton yield asparagus that’s famous world-round, legumes have long had a home near Tracy.
Beginning some 80 years ago, this area was the Promised Land for bean growers looking to escape development elsewhere in California. Beans soon sprouted all across the region.
In 1987, those humble beans became an excuse to throw a party and ring in the changing of the seasons. While drumming up publicity and profits, of course.
It’s a fitting history, but I think there’s another, more elegant explanation for our affinity for Anasazis, orcas and cranberries (not to mention pintos and lentils).
Dried beans are staples — nutritive foodstuffs that lend heft to the diets of millions. They’re not Food Network glam-worthy, but take the time to soak them, cook them and unlock the proteins, minerals and general rib-sticking goodness within, and you’ll push away your plate satisfied. Especially if they’re the backbone of a chili that’s been paired with a cup of cold suds.
Just like the beans, the character and potential of Tracy aren’t always appreciated. To many outsiders, Tracy’s a bump on the interstate, a valley commuter town grown from cow pastures — not exactly a first choice for settling down.
What, live somewhere you can actually see farmland? Definitely no glam there.
Then again, not everyone has bothered to tuck in to Tracy’s own brand of rib-sticking goodness.
It’s a vibrant, hearty mix of farm-town earthiness and metropolitan class, with a swirl of community and a dash of civic spirit.
It’ll all be on display today, as agricultural bounty and arm wrestling share the shadow of the Grand Theatre’s fine art galleries, and tank tops and short-shorts strut beside seersucker and silk. (Well, there’ll probably be more Daisy Dukes than Southern suits, but how else would you celebrate summer’s last hurrah?)
For a real taste of this town — and the unassuming beans that make it “famous” — bring your sense of humor, a wide-brimmed hat and a healthy appetite downtown this weekend. There’s no better way to say hello to fall.
• Share your thoughts with associate editor and columnist Jon Mendelson at jmendelson@