Happy New Year Cooking Beans

It’s 2010, a New Year, a new decade. In Memphis where I grew up Tula (Darthula Baldwin, the black woman who worked for my mother and who helped raise me) would cook up black-eyed peas and turnip greens to celebrate the New Year and bring good luck for our family and all of our loved ones. Usually she served the feast with pan-fried cornbread. Good and cheap delicious stuff (1). Now that we’ve lived in El Paso these 30-something years we’ve traded in the black-eyed peas for beans .

A while back I wrote a poem about my beans and folks have asked me how I cook my beans. So this is the way I make beans. Pinto beans, that is. I live in the El Paso and so if I say I’m going to make beans then I’m going to make pinto beans. Refried beans or ranchero beans or gringo vegetarian beans. Beans are pinto beans. If I’m going to cook black beans or navy beans, then I say I’m going to cook up some black beans or some navy beans(1). Now, be forewarned, I cook gringo vegetarian beans. And I make a big pot of them, three or four cups of dried beans at least. No sense of having beans on one day only. We like them for a main course the first night and then from then on we eat them however we want them. We garnish them with chopped onions, tomatoes, Monterrey Jack cheese and salsa, and I chop up a clove or two of fresh garlic and drop them on top of my beans. That way I’ll live forever.

So before I go to bed I rinse the beans, cover them in a pot with lots of water and then soak them overnight to soften them up. In the morning after breakfast and coffee I drain those beans. And then I pour in a box of Pacific Organic Mushroom Broth. Good stuff. It was worth a shot. After cooking beans for at least 30 years, I discovered mushroom broth a couple of years ago. Brilliant idea that really happened by accident. We had a box lost in the pantry for some reason and I'm always experimenting with my beans, so why not? The broth adds a dark and earthy taste to the beans. I put the beans sitting in the mushroom broth on the stove and get them started toward a boil. I also set the oven at 250 degrees. And I start throwing in stuff. I find the biggest onion we have, chop it up and throw it in. At least four large garlic cloves chopped up. 1½ teaspoons of ground cumin. 1 teaspoon of curry powder. Maybe more. 2 or 3 teaspoons of salt. Same with pepper. Just how I feel. I never keep count. 4 tablespoons of Extra Virgin olive oil. Maybe I shake in some Italian Seasoning. Whatever. When it all comes to a boil then I stir it up and open another box of broth and add another inch or so of liquid. Sometimes I just add water if I’m tired of wasting money on my beans. I need to make sure that there’s enough liquid in the pot so I can forget about my beans. I get distracted. I like to cook things that don’t need me to pay too much attention. Before I finish I might add a can of organic tomato sauce or chopped tomatoes or even tomato paste. Cooked tomatoes are supposed to be good healthy stuff for being a man. I think about things like that. It makes cooking more interesting. I put the pot in the oven and go away. The beans cook for five hours or so at 250 degrees.

Like I said in my poem, people like my gringo vegetarian beans, but I’m not averse to meat in my beans. You can’t eat beans in a Mexican restaurant in El Paso without getting some meat in your beans some way or another. If you’re eating refried beans, then those are usually are flavored with some lard. That’s okay. There’s no better place in the world to eat beans than in El Paso. Still, if I cook vegetarian beans, more folks can enjoy them. Lots of vegetarians running around these days. Son Johnny Byrd's novia Ailbhe is a vegetarian. Joe Hayes is a vegetarian (well, he eats fish). I used to be a vegetarian. Still, I will use meat under one condition--Somebody gives me a hambone. Especially a Honey-Baked hambone with flakes of ham still hanging from the bone. Those bones make delicious beans.

So that’s how I make beans. With my first pot of beans in this New Year, I wish for good luck, peace and justice for our friends and neighbors—our brothers and sisters—in La Ciudad Juárez across the river from where we live. My first pot of greens will be for our children and grandchildren, for all of our friends—may we all be blessed with good health and spiritual well-being.

Happy New Year.


(1) I still cook the turnip greens, and I cook them mostly the way Tula taught me--lots of greens, onions, garlic, spices but I do them vegetarian style, olive oil instead of a hamhock, sometime I use vegetarian broths of some kind or another. I simmer them all day long on the stove top so that the smell and the humidity from those greens saturate the house and make me want to weep with all those memories. Lee, by the way, is in charge of the cornbread. It’s juicy with butter. It’s the grandkids’ favorite. 

(2) I’m sorry, JB, but that’s the way it is. That’s life, the way we live it here.

1 comment:

Ed Baker said...

I got a pot done similarly just the other day

added some pressed/fried/tofu and
2 hot-hot Jellopeenyo peppers (w seeds)
and a dash of chile powder.. tried something new a bottle of flat warm beer!

made some cole-slaw got a black bread

and we all stood around the stove while things thickened and sang (the kids lovwe this one:


good for your heart

the more you eat
the more you phart

the more you phart

the better you feel


let's eat beans with every meal

cheers for the Knew year