Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Beans and Cornbread

I thought I'd be able to keep cooking posts out of this blog, but I've realized that cooking is such an integral part of why I'm gardening that it would be impossible, and foolish to try. Besides, for me, cooking is a big part of who I am, and this is sort of a journal for myself from a perspective I'd like to adopt more wholeheartedly. All that is to say, please bear with me as I try to tie things together into as neat a package as life allows, at least in a few topics that matter to me.

Today I've been knitting, doing a bit of housework here and there - some vacuuming, some glass cleaning - and all the while listening to my Pandora radio station. I haven't figured out how to link it just yet, and chances are good you wouldn't want to listen to it anyway; it tends towards the melancholy just now. Anyway, Pandora decided to play me a good chunk of Gene Autry and Hank Sr. and Johnny Cash and basically just actual, good country music. This always makes me think of my grandparents, and the time I spent in West Virginia on family farm land, and a sort of nebulous concept I have of ways in which I'd like to simplify my life and move to a more agricultural lifestyle, if I can't live in the city. It's all just things I turn over in my head, and very little of it is concrete enough to be able to write about yet.

At any rate, country music lead to West Virginia lead to beans and cornbread. My gramma used to make these a lot - she was one of those gifted cooks who just threw things together and they turned out great because of years of experience and some degree of talent. I like to think I got lucky and inherited this particular trait, and my friends and family enjoy my food, which is the important thing. When I first had beans and cornbread I thought it was horribly bland and just not that great; probably because I was used to McDonald's and TV dinners. (My mom tried hard, but was never a great cook, and I don't have a problem with that; I'm just sayin', is all.) But over time I came to love it, and now my infatuation with beans is kind of bordering on the ridiculous. I love the way the skin makes a firm little packet and then you slip it into your mouth, and it's smooth, then a bite gains you access to all the creamy interior goodness. I tend to eat the beans individually so I can enjoy the tension of teeth on the exterior as it gives way. Makes for slow eatin', but what the hell?

So today I decided I needed to make this. Just presently I've got about half and half Great Northern and Pinto beans simmering away with some bacon on the stovetop, in my Lodge cast iron dutch oven. It's actually meant for use in a campfire but the feet slip easily on top of my stove burners, so it works just fine indoors, too. I just don't tend to pile coals on the top of it when I'm working in the kitchen, you know. So far no seasonings; those will be decided at the end, as the beans are dispatched to their final dishes. Most of them will probably be eaten just as they are, but some will inevitably be turned into refried beans - an entirely different way to experience the bean, yes. So here's the beginning as they simmer away; I'm updating this post as they cook. Yes, live blogging about beans!


I've decided that, if the lighting is good and I can get the soil prepared, I'm just going to go slightly off the deep end plating beans along the chain link fence in the yard. I won't be harvesting them green, but leaving them on the plant to dry, so I don't need to worry about keeping up with picking them; with any luck I should have a nice harvest of dry beans to keep us through the year. I am inordinately excited about seeing the beans. I selected Papa de Rola beans, which have a beautiful little speckled bit, an eye, and a creamy white section; so pretty. I hope this works out, because I'm excited.

But for now, back to tending the cooking beans, just simple stuff in an unfancy pot, which is what makes them exactly what I need today. There's not much of a recipe, here; I tend to just rinse the beans, don't really bother soaking them. I throw them into a pot and cover them with an extra inch or two of water, and throw in a ham hock or some bacon or whatever other smoked meat I've got around, if any. Simmer for a couple hours or until they're tender, and then add other seasonings: salt, pepper, sometimes other stuff, more often not (until they reach their final dish).

As for the cornbread, I have to admit to being a sweet cornbread person when I'm eating chili, but for all other applications, unsweet cornbread is tops. I'll have to consider whether my recipe is worth posting; after all, there are so many available online, and mine's not much special. I do like to pour the batter into a super-hot pan, preferably greased with bacon grease, but that's about the only "trick" there is to it.

Must go stir; photos to be added anon, I'm sure.

This is what the beans look like when they're done - you can't see the broth since it's hidden in there!
yay beans

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