Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Franks and Beans and What It All Means

The other night, k-ster requested a meal that I have never actually made.  It's not that I don't know how, it's just that it has never occurred to me to make or buy these ingredients.  

Kind of like it would never occur to me at 2 in the afternoon, when driving by an ice cream place, to just randomly pull in and get an ice cream cone.  That is reserved for when people come to visit, and you take them after supper.

There are unspoken rules about these things and I still abide by them.  Just know that if you come and visit, one night I will bring you to the The Creamery after supper for their coconut ice cream and you'll go crazy!

Preparing this meal prompted me to compose a little story for you about the rules of eating such a meal.  So, as you guessed by the title, this is what I served:

 
 But, I can't not serve a vegetable, so I cooked up some spinach.
 And then I classed it up by adding some bread and serving it right on the cutting board.  We're very high class around here, always ready for a visit from the queen.
 
So, here's why it's never occurred to me to make this meal and why I have not eaten hot dogs and beans since 1989.  NOTE:  I have eaten a hot dog or two and I have certainly eaten beans, just not this kind and not this meal in particular.

I grew up here, in our campground, and so did my mother.  In the summer, various relatives used to come and stay in a cottage or, in my aunt's case, in a mobile home.  And that mobile home was the summer office and my "home base" all summer until I was in high school and Aunt Mildred didn't come anymore.  My mother's upbringing was very similar, complete with Aunt Mildred.

My mother must have picked this bean tradition up from her grandmother, who was Aunt Mildred's sister.  It makes me laugh now because I realize this was my great grandmother's recipe and yet my mother would make it for Aunt Mildred when my great grandmother died, but it was probably THEIR mother's recipe.  It tickles me, for some reason.

So, every Saturday from June until August, we would have hot dogs and beans on Aunt Mildred's porch.  We never say franks and beans in my mother's house.  We just don't.  It's hot dogs and beans.

I thought I'd share the story of my mother's beans.

To make these beans, you must use yellow eyed beans.  During the mid 80s, these suddenly became impossible to find.  No other bean would do.  You had to have the dried, yellow eyed beans. No little puny beans for us.  These things are BIG.   At one point, we could find them at Publix in Florida and my mother would bring them back from a trip to Florida, hidden under the bed like contraband.  Or she'd ask people to bring them home.  I vividly remember it being a very big deal when we could find those beans in the store.  I still sometimes find myself looking at the dried beans aisle to see if I can see them.

To begin:  On Saturday morning, you wash the beans in a strainer and there may be some soaking involved.  Then you boil them for what I am pretty sure is like 100 hours.  And they don't smell good.  Because you just boil them in water.  They really stink up the house.  If there is one thing I would tell you my mother cooked that I hated the smell of, it would be this portion of the bean making process.  Later, they smell fine, but boiling on the stove?  AWFUL.

Then, you must use the special bean dish that was my great grandmother's.  There used to be 2.  One was brown and one was teal.  They were nice casserole dishes, very 1960s and surely not pyrex.  They had gold painted flowers on them and the inside was white.  They had glass covers.  I know you know what I'm talking about.

My mother is famous for these beans and always had to bring them to the Labor Day parties we'd have in the campground.  We learned a very sobering lesson one Labor Day: you cannot put these casserole dishes on a grill to reheat them. Poor Phil thought he was being so helpful and grabbed the dish and put it right on the grill and it exploded!  No one got hurt, and I think I remember my mother yelling "MY BEANS" like she should yell "MY DAUGHTER" if one of us exploded, but now we only had ONE bean dish.  And that was a tragedy. And it was sacred.  And I'm pretty sure it was the brown one that was left because I think remember seeing the teal one on the grill.

Anybean, after you boil the beans, you drain them and then put onions, the beans, salt pork (which is just a giant hunk of bacon like pork that's very salty and very old fashioned and did I mention BIG) and some special ingredients that may or may not be listed on the B&M baked beans that I served on Sunday night.  I will assure you mom, one of your special ingredients was NOT listed and therefore, it tasted slightly different.  Then you put on the glass cover and bake them for what must be another 200 hours.  And they will bubble up and dribble everywhere and even when you remember to put the aluminum foil on the bottom of the oven, the juice will still burn to the bottom of the oven.  And that is yet another stink that helped form my overly sensitive olfactory nerves.

Around 5pm, you take them out and bring them to the back floor of the car and drive them over to Aunt Mildred's porch.  In those days, we didn't have those bags you can put hot things in (like pizza boxes) and carry them to your dinner.  It's like a 3 minute walk, but who wants to carry hot beans across the field??  Can you imagine?  What if you fell in a hole or twisted your ankle?   That would be a total waste of beans, potential breakage of the last bean dish and everyone would be left hungry.  Forget about your own injury.  Get in the car and drive them over.

Then, you must serve them with hot dogs on a paper plate.  And as far as I can recall, no bun for the hot dog. I'm pretty sure there were no not dog buns.  Because one thing Aunt Mildred always had was Wonder bread, which we did NOT have in our house.  And I remember eating Wonder bread with these beans.

I hadn't realized that it had been so long since I've had my mother's beans until the other night.  She has made them many times since, always for a potluck or something, but I've never had them again.  It was a tradition that we did for all of those years and then when Aunt Mildred stopped coming, my mother didn't make them on Saturdays anymore, and that sort of went away.

I didn't know until I was about 12 that this is not what everyone's mother made on Saturday nights.   We aren't a family that does a lot of traditions, but this was something we just always did.  If I had a friend over, she'd get to eat hot dogs and beans with us too.  Then I learned this isn't what everyone does.  But I think it used to be a New England tradition and since Aunt Mildred was OLD, that's probably why we did it.

I know you're wondering about the location of the last bean dish today.  I know it moved into the house next door when I was in high school.  I know that at one point, she tried making the beans in another dish and it was a mess.  But then I also know that one day, the last bean dish left this world.  And yet, the beans still get made for potlucks and cookouts.  She must have figured out how to adapt the recipe to work with the new dish.

As far as the beans themselves go, B&M were OK, but they weren't the same.  The biggest difference between my mother's beans and all of the other beans I've ever eaten is that somehow, they were cooked so much that they were really soft but I wouldn't say they were mushy.  Like you take them onto your plate and you know they are beans,you can tell the size of them, you can see the "eyes" from the yellow eyes (though they are dark brown with all of the molasses) but when you go to eat them, they kind of melt in your mouth.  Any other beans I've ever had have remained firm.  And these in the can were no different.  They were small and firm.  No melting.

Curiously, I don't wish to make my mother's beans.  First, hot dogs and beans are not something I crave.  Second, I don't think I could handle the smell of them boiling.  Third, I hasn't ever crossed my mind.  I did ask her once to tell me what she was doing as she did it, so I would know, and I remember her showing me.  I think when my sister a-ster got married, she gave her that recipe in the cookbook I made her, so I think it's written somewhere in the event that I ever want to make them.

So, if I were stranded on a desert island and all I could eat were my mother's beans and B&M?  I'd take my mother's and would have to fight off everyone else who got wind of it.

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