Age is all a matter of perspective. There are days when I’m pretending to be grown up and days when adult responsibility slaps me in the face. Maybe it’s a bit odd for a mother of three (and one who is about to turn 40) to say that she doesn’t feel grown up but then again isn’t ‘feeling young’ what keeps us young?
I had a really great visit with my grandparents while back in Saskatchewan for the Christmas holidays. My dad suggested that we visit Grandpa as soon as we got there because he was having some ‘good days’, having just returned from yet another hospital stay. I’m glad we took his advice because we had a wonderful visit with Grandpa and he was spry enough to play one whole game of cards with us before he became weak and retired to his comfy chair in the living room. As we listened to Grandpa’s stories of the past I felt the connection of generations of prairie loving Germans, of hardships and sacrifices, but mostly of love. He told us what it was like to grow up in a family of 14 kids (12 boys, 2 girls) and how great grandma fed everyone back then. They didn’t make many trips to the big city to buy food but his mother would spend a day each week traveling there by horse to sell any extra food that they were able to raise/slaughter/preserve. I told him of my sauerkraut experiments and how I’ve mostly gotten them wrong. He let me in on a few family kraut making secrets…but first I need to find a 45 gallon drum and a ‘cartload’ of cabbages!
I didn’t ask, but I am going to make an assumption that great grandma also fed the family a lot of baked beans. She may have grown the beans in the garden and dried them herself or more likely just bought them by the bagful, already dried, during one of her many trips to town. This dish is, in all honesty, a cheap way to feed protein to a large family. Especially when you raise the hogs and smoke your own bacon! I’m pretty sure there was also a backyard still set up to provide libations but we didn’t talk about that either…
Sweet & Smokey Bourbon Beans (from The Cozy Apron)
The great thing about this bean recipe is that they are made stove top. You could also make them the day before. I always think they taste better the second day.
1 lb dry great northern beans (or small white beans or navy beans) soaked overnight in water and drained of excess
5 cups chicken stock (*see note below)
1 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, pressed through garlic press
• Cracked black pepper
¾ cup ketchup
¾ cup BBQ sauce
1 ½ tablespoons tomato paste
• Pinch or two ground cumin
• Pinch or two smoked paprika
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
• Olive oil
12 oz apple smoked bacon, crisped and chopped
2-3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons bourbon
(*Start with the 5 cups of chicken stock; as the beans cook, you may need to add additional water in small increments if the beans are still a bit hard but are absorbing the liquid.)
-Add the soaked beans to a large pot; next, add in the chicken stock, the diced onion, the garlic, a few generous pinches of salt and of cracked black pepper, the ketchup, BBQ sauce, tomato paste, ground cumin and paprika, plus the brown sugar, molasses and a generous drizzle of olive oil, and stir the ingredients together; place the pot over high heat, uncovered, and once the contents begin to boil, reduce the heat to medium-low or low, partially cover with a lid, and simmer the beans for about 4 hours, stirring occasionally (you may need to add the additional water during the latter part of the cooking process once the beans begin to absorb the liquid), or until the beans are tender and the sauce is rich and thick.
-Once the beans are tender, turn off the heat; add in the crisped and chopped bacon, the maple syrup and the bourbon, and stir to incorporate; finally, check your seasoning to make sure that there is enough salty/sweet flavor, and adjust if necessary; serve the beans warm alongside your favorite grilled meats, hot dogs or other favorite BBQ items.
Storytelling has always been an art form with my grandpa. When I was young I would always try to be as near to him as possible to hear his stories as he played cards with the rest of the adults. Being a big fan of Reader’s Digest anecdotes and jokes, he always said that one day he would send in the story about the time I put him in his place: I was about six years old and quite a chatterbox, full of confidence and learning new words everyday. After listening to me blather on for a long period of time, he became slightly annoyed (because I was taking his story telling time away) and asked me if I knew what ‘verbal diarrhea’ was. I replied, “Yes Bob (I called him Bob!), but do you know what competition is?” Bwahahaha! I had no idea that it was the perfect response to his annoyance and he told that joke for years! I think even hubby heard it several times back when we were newly married.
Grandpa was a hard man, full of principle, quick to anger, and a drinker to boot. During these last years of greater age and failing health, he and his stories have become softer and more emotional. He fondly reminisces about ‘this person’ or ‘that time’ and we sit there, listening patiently as we know there are not many more days that he will be in our lives. We will no longer be the younger generation, but those who are responsible for carrying on the story.