The Free Bean Feed starts at Noon on October 9
PASO ROBLES — The Paso Robles Pioneer Day Bean Feed is back for its 91st anniversary on Oct. 9.
David Kudija, captain of the bean feed, said, “We’re beefing it up because we are expecting after everyone’s been cramped up for 20 months now that they’re going to come out in droves, so we want to be ready for them.”
Due to the COVID pandemic shutdowns in 2020, there was no Pioneer Day bean feed or parade celebration.
The only other time Pioneer Day and the Bean Feed were canceled was from 1942-1944, during World War II.
But considering the Pioneer Day and Bean Feed were born amid tragedy, it would be only fit for the Paso Robles Pioneer days to keep going through the world’s current trials and tribulations.
“We’re happy to be going again,” David said.
Oct. 12, 1931, amid a depression, the people of Paso Robles gathered around their downtown city park for what would be the first Pioneer Day Parade and Bean Feed.
Reverend Dean Thackeray noticed a growing divide between Paso Robles townsmen and their country folk. Inspired by a similar event from his previous home in Utah, Rev. Thackeray brought his community together to create what would later be known as Paso Robles Pioneer Day.
It was a day to give thanks to Paso’s farmers and ranchers.
“Leave your pocketbook at home,” said Reverend Thackeray.
And so they did. Businesses closed, and people came into town from every nook and cranny. And an annual Paso Robles tradition was born.
Volunteers made enough beef stew to feed an army.
Bob Tullock, a previous Grand Marshal in the Pioneer Day Parade, “I forget who donated the beef for it, but the story at that time was one of the ranchers in the area donated the beef and said ‘well if this goes on three or four years I’ll probably donate some of my beef instead of going over and russlin’ someone else.’”
Well, this unknown rancher was in luck because after two years, the Pioneer Day committee started serving King City Pink Beans.
And to this day, they still do.
The preparation for the bean feed begins in August. All 13 large cooking pots are pulled out and inspected for damage.
Then the beans are ordered from King City, triple cleaned. Have you ever cleaned hundreds of pounds of beans for dirt and rocks? As someone with a lot of experience with dry beans, I can tell you, having them come to you triple cleaned is a godsend.
On the Thursday leading up to the big feed, the city’s water crew steam cleans all of the cooking pots.
The beans used to be cooked over a wood fire until the 1970s. The sand was laid down, and cooking pots were sat on a rack so the fires could be stoked continuously. Then the bean crew switched to using propane burners. Propane is then donated by PROPANE CO.
Rather than soaking and then cooking, the dry beans don’t hit the water until the morning of Pioneer Day. The beans are put into the pots, covered with water, and start cooking by 6 a.m. and are done by 10:30 a.m. Because the beans are purchased fresh from the latest harvest and are a smaller variety, they cook in just a few hours.
A crew of about 15 people volunteer to cook and serve the beans on Pioneer Day. Volunteers come from the Lions Club, Boy Scout Troop 60, firefighters, and anyone else who wants to pitch in.
David was drafted four years ago as head of the beans. He got his bean experience from helping Boy Scout Troop 60 with their Mother’s Day Meal in a Box, which served 300 pounds of beans a year.
“It’s a whole of us that makes it happen—it’s been fun,” says David.
His bean predecessor Larry Eastwood, former longtime owner of Vic’s Cafe, was in charge of beans for over 40 years.
Larry, a lifetime member of the Lions Club, was given the recipe and told to take over.
Larry enjoyed the camaraderie of the day. Paso was a small-town community where everyone knew each other. Families set up picnics in the park, brought fried chicken and all the fixings. Everyone came up with their little pot to get beans back to the picnic blanket.
The man in charge of beans before Larry was none other than Camp Robert’s Staff Sergeant Victor B. Buckley. Victor, or Vic, opened Vic’s Cafe in 1942 with his wife, Lorna. And at some point, he became Staff Sergeant of the Bean Feed.
The bean recipe has been passed down and tweaked here and there throughout the years. There’s no special ingredient, no fancy tricks: just beans, seasoning, and some good company.
Many memories have been made with these little beans being an underestimated side dish.
Frank Mecham, former and first elected mayor of Paso Robles, remembers, “When I was a kid, I lived down on Pine Street, 15th and Pine, and our job was to always go up to the park and take a pot and get some beans, come home and have a bbq.”
Beans are served by the clock tower on 12th Street. All you need is a bowl! Beans start cooking at 7:00 a.m. and are ready by 12:00 p.m.
For more information on Paso Robles Pioneer Day visit: pasoroblespioneerday.org