|Powder-monkey crew in the Olympic National Forest...OSU Archives|
After Dad was let go, my parents did many things to try and eke out a living during those lean Depression years. Dad worked in lumbercamps, picked apples, and even did some prize-fighting. Mom took in ironing, was a housekeeper for rich folks (even cleaned a mortuary), and worked in canneries preserving fish and fruit. (And that's only a few of the jobs they did!) Back then there was no negotiating for better pay or for medical benefits or for vacation time. If you were lucky enough to find work...you did it for whatever they offered; and you were grateful. You worked hard. Real hard. We have no idea.
Anyway, by the time I came along in the fifties, the folks were doing better. Mom had a good job at the County Court House and Dad was grading lumber at Bloedel-Donovan's lumbermill on the shores of Lake Whatcom. We weren't rich by any means, but compared to those early years; things were pretty good. We still however, lived paycheck to paycheck; and as you know if you've ever lived paycheck to paycheck...the slightest hiccup in your budget can upset the whole darned apple cart! So when our car broke down or the pump for our water well broke down (as it often did) Dad would grin at Mom and say, "Guess we'll have to eat beans!" My folks knew how to live cheap.
Now to my parents...eating beans meant that you were broke. Not that they didn't like beans...it was just that if we had to eat beans, it was because we couldn't afford meat. So from time to time...we ate beans. But most of the time, Mom managed to find the cash to buy a ham-bone or a slab of bacon to throw into the pot.
These days, eating beans is fashionable. They call them 'legumes' and praise the benefits of eating low-fat and high in protein while saving the planet by reducing our carbon footprint by eating vegan. (As though this generation were the first to have cooked and eaten a bowl of beans! How narcissistic!) Now I do believe in living healthy...low fat and reducing my carbon footprint...I really do! But I have to smile when I think of what Dad would say if I invited him over for a bowl of my bean soup. I'm sure he'd look across the table at me with a wry grin and say,
"Broke? Guess we'll have to eat beans!"
Bean with Bacon Soup
1 lb. great northern beans, soaked in water overnight--you could buy canned beans, but we're talking economy and home cooking here...so don't be such a pansy...use the real stuff!
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 carrot, chopped
2 cans vegetable broth--or make your own broth. I'm sure chicken or beef broth would be tasty in this soup!
3 cups of water, or enough to cover beans
1 8-oz pkg Trader Joe's uncured turkey bacon, fried and crumbled into pieces-or live dangerously and toss in a hambone or a slab of real fried bacon! If you're broke or vegan, omit the meat.
Salt and Pepper to taste
A few shakes of Old Bay Seasoning--this is my new favorite seasoning. I dunno what's in it, but I've been adding it to almost everything I cook lately, and it's fantastic.
Wash and soak the beans overnight, then rinse. Chop the veggies, mince the garlic. Put the beans into a large pot and add enough broth and water to cover the beans. Add fried bacon, veggies, garlic, and seasoning. Bring to a rolling boil, skimming off any foam. Reduce heat and simmer for a couple of hours...until the beans are soft and the broth has thickened. (The thicker the better, I always say. It's hard to tell whether my soup is soup, or just beans and meat. I like it that way.) Salt and pepper to taste.
Cornbread with lots of butter is the best accompaniment to this meal.