Carl 'Papa' Palmer
Standing in the kitchenette, pouring Van Camp pinto beans into a saucepan, I picture the big stainless steel kettle Mom used for soups, boiling canning jars, sterilizing baby bottles, and now, as I fix my meal, I’m reminded she also used it to soak beans.
Mom had a bean formula:
1 lb. of dried beans = 2 cups
2 cups triple when cooked = 6 cups
6 cups = 8 servings
With six kids she’d usually start out with three or four pounds of dried beans. “Nothing says you can’t have leftovers.”
Many mornings I’d see that kettle on the kitchen counter by the sink with floating milky husks and skins of submerged beans, soaking since before I got up. She made sure they stayed covered by an inch or so of water, never drained and rinsed like the rarely used red and white Better Homes cookbook advised. “Why pour God’s vitamins and minerals down the drain?”
She’d stir her beans occasionally, add more water and skim off the floaters until early afternoon. “Time to start supper,” putting the kettle on the stove while my sisters set the table.
As I shake dried onion flakes to hydrate in my warming beans, I remember the tears stung from my eyes as Mom chopped onions fresh from the garden into her pot, green parts and all. She’d rub Morton salt on her hands, “Gets the smell off my fingers.”
While biting off the cellophane and cutting chunks of smoked beef jerky into my beans for flavor, I remember when growing up, meat wasn’t always there at our house. Saved bacon grease in a Crisco can or chicken broth made do when we didn’t have that ham hock or soup bone she’d sometimes get from the butcher, no matter if it were beef or pork.
My microwave pack of Sara Lee muffins is a poor replacement for the hot steaming aroma of browned yellow bricks from Mom’s black tin fresh out of the oven. My sister still makes cornbread that same way and tried to tell me how.
She even wrote it down:
1 cup sifted flour
1 cup of combined yellow and white cornmeal
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup of yesterday’s bacon grease
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Put flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cornmeal in a bowl.
Add eggs, buttermilk, sour cream, vinegar and bacon grease.
Use rotary hand mixer (never an electric mixer or blender) mix until it just gets smooth, not too much.
Pour into a buttered 9x9x2 inch pan
Bake at 425 degrees for 25 minutes
Carrying my meal, still in the saucepan to the foldout metal tray table by the couch, I think back to our family supper table…
We wait for Mom to take off her apron and sit at her end of the table. Dad sits on the other end, three boys on one side, three girls on the other. She ladles out eight bowls of steaming hot beans beside a 3x3 inch cornbread cake and a cold glass of fresh cow’s milk.
Together we say grace while smiling at the feast in front of us. With a chorus of “Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Amen” and a nod from Dad, we all dig in.
“Amen,” I whisper to my quiet room and turn up the sound on the apartment TV.
Experiences are to memories what ingredients are to recipes.
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