Thursday, January 31, 2013

Goodness Gracious Gotta Get Me Some Southern Style Green Beans!




Greetings Kind Reader, 

Before you jump into this post, I thought I’d let you know that I wrote it last night as a ‘discussion’ on my fave book site BookRix.com in a group called ‘Cook Book’ (What a fun group it’s devoted to recipes and the stories that surround them.  I’ll bet YOU have a food or that reminds you of a story from your youth, too!  If you do, feel free to attach it as a comment here so you can share it with the world!)  And then, when I woke up this morning to start my daily ‘gotta-dos’ I said to myself, Myself, that my green bean tale would make a nifty blog post!  Maybe I can add a little here, add a little there and whatnot! 

It sounded like a grand sort of plan to me so, that’s why I’m finishing up the month of January with a the story of and the recipe for one of my family’s favorite dishes.  Now to the tale…

If you’ve ventured to my blog before you may or may not know it but I used to teach history - mainly US history because I have a Master’s Degree in History and there's not a lot a person can do with that sort of degree.  But it's what I picked because I loved the 'stories' found within the history.  And when I taught that's how I presented lessons to my students. 

My love of history came from years of spending hours (yes, hours) around our big round dinner table listening to the stories my father used to tell about his childhood, his college days, and his years in the military.  Unlike most of my friends whose dads were in their 20s or 30s or maybe sometimes in their 40s when they were born - my father was 52 when I was born in 1970.  A quick bit of math and that’ll tell you he was born in 1918—which means that basically I lived with my own personal, walking talking history book.  And did my father love to talk and tell stories!  (He was also a poet - I'm actually putting together his poems in a series of books to be published on BookRix eventually)

Anyway - my father especially liked to tell his stories was when he was cooking. Yes, he was a stay-at-home Dad before there ever was such a thing as S@H Dads.  Only he didn't stay home because he wanted to...no, he would have much rather been working but he couldn't because he had cancer from somewhere in '77 to about '80 (at least that's how long it took for him to go into remission from Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma)  The radiation and chemotherapy treatments, which weren’t nearly as pleasant (if you can imagine such a thing being pleasant) back then some 30 odd years ago as they are today and as a result it left him too tired to 'work' so he stayed home while my mother went to work. 

As I said earlier, my daddy loved to tell stories while he was cooking and now that I look back on it, I think he wanted me to associate all his stories with something tangible...something I could see or smell or taste later on in life that would trigger my memories so that his stories could come to life long after he passed on.  (My father was diagnosed with lung cancer in early 1993 and died 3 months before my wedding...but not before he wrote a poem for me and my future husband.  Of course, that's a story for another time)

Moving right along, when my daddy got to cooking dinner it was usually well before the dinner hour at 6PM.  And that’s because good, old-fashioned Southern Style cooking takes a little time to reach that ‘Oh, my Lord that’s SO good’ stage!  Besides, the prep time for the foods I grew up on were the best times to catch up on things that were going on.  Somehow, I imagine this is true in many households where dinner isn’t something that is ‘just about refueling as quickly and as mess free as possible’. 

I kid you not when I say there were times when I'd get off the school bus and you could smell the aroma of whatever my daddy had been working on wafting its way down our long driveway on a soft Southern breeze.  An in our house a meal wasn't a ‘meal’ unless it had:



1.       A meat for instance: 
-buttermilk fried chicken;
-crusted cube steak-n-mushroom *gravy (a.k.a. chicken fried steak); or,
-big ol' fried pork chops smothered in rich, creamy gravy.

The emphasis is on the 'fried' part.  Sure you could do an 'oven baked crispy style' for each of these if you want.  (Truth is, most times that's how I cook today - but then again, sometimes I just have to let loose and go all Southern Fried Yummy on my meats!)


*Gravy was its own food group, mind you. Oh, Heaven help me, do I love me some good gravy.  Perhaps that’s where the phrase of exasperation ‘oh, good gravy!’ came from.




         2.       Two vegetables like:  
       -fresh creamed corn;
      -wilted spinach cooked with thin strips of crispy salted fatback {I’m personally not a fan of eating the fatback—however, I do love the flavor it imparts in a dish}; or,  
      -green beans.  Oh, gracious, those green beans!  Lord have mercy, my daddy’s green beans were mouthwatering and amazing!


 
3.       Some sort of starch (like potatoes, rice, or pastas)




      4.       Bread.  Granted bread, in whatever form you have it, is starchy in some way.  But in my house bread, like gravy, was a food group in and of itself.  And he’d make things like: fresh country white bread, sweet corn bread, and buttermilk biscuits.  My mouth started to water as thoughts of how wonderful the smell of those tasty food are!





5.    And to wrap it all up came the dessert.  Now we didn’t have it all the time.  
   
    Heaven’s no.  But once a week or so we’d always have something sweet from the kitchen…usually on Sunday afternoons.  He’d make homemade cakes, pies, and cobblers.  

    To be honest, I loved the cobblers best of all thanks to all that buttery, fruity, sugary yumminess that came together in a way that made my taste buds explode!  Today, when I make a cobbler, my husband who love, love, loves cobblers gets all excited as does my mother (who’s diabetic so for her to get cobbler is a MAJOR treat) and my daughter (whose eyes sort of glaze over when I mention it!)  It boggles my mind that we’re all not big as houses because when I get to cooking…I go all out!


Getting back to the road this post was traveling before that little turn…

Oh, yes, my daddy knew how to make a feast fit for a king from the simple fixins we had on hand. (Yes, fixins is spelled correctly!  In the South, we always 'fix' food and you need 'fixins' to fix food!)  But to make the very best foods you need really fresh foods.  Meats were a market sort of thing but veggies…those were best if they came from the Farmers’ Market or if they came out of your own garden.  Unfortunately we didn’t have a garden (save the tomatoes we grew!) but, our cross-street neighbors, the Kirks, now they had a garden and were the people who really were salt of the earth sort of folks.

Mrs. Kirk was a farmer’s wife through and through.  She was a plump woman who spent her days baking, canning, pickling, and making much of their clothes.  Mr. Kirk was a lean, hearty man who woke up at 4AM each morning to deliver bread from Bost’s Bakery around town and then came how to do his real job as a farmer.  The Kirks had a full-working farm with a 'little garden' that was about 2 acres and required a tractor to work it...needless to say when people today talk about their 'big backyard gardens' I just grin because their version of 'a big garden' and my version of 'a big garden' are a wee bit different!  Best of all, I got to help out in the garden and with the animals and all the ‘stuff’ one has to do when on a farm.

What great fun I had at Mr. & Mrs. Kirk's house!  Of course, most kids today might not agree because the fun I had required a lot of physical labor especially when we were in the garden where we had to do things like hand plant row after row of seasonal vegetables. It was hard work but well worth it! And Mr. Kirk didn't care one iota that I was a very small little girl. Nope. He used to say I was much closer to God's beautiful Earth therefore I was made by Him for gardening! 

Now when someone tells you God thinks you'd be a good gardener - you try your best to do your best! And I was such a good worker, that Mr. Kirk even taught me to drive the tractor when I was all of 10 years old. Yes, a giant orange stick shift tractor with tiller and plow attachments. Now come on--you've got to admit that at 10 years old that's cool. 

But getting back to those green beans. Whenever the beans would 'come in' over at Mr. Kirk's, he'd call my daddy and tell him, "Steve, I've got me about 4 rows of green beans I won't be able to get to and I was wondering if you'd mind Laura coming on over to pick a couple of rows to take home? It would be such a shame to let them go to waste because Margie won't be able to can 'em before they go bad." 

What a lovely man Mr. Kirk was.  He knew our family didn't have a lot of money around that time because the treatment for my father's cancer was quite costly.  And offering use those green beans, which weren't expensive at all, wasn't meant to be a giant grand gesture...rather it was Mr. Kirk's way of saying 'Hey neighbor, my brother in God's eyes, I want to share this bounty with you because I care.’  Yes, that's the sort of people I grew up around.  I suppose I was a rather lucky young lady. 

As for the beans that came into the house...my father took great care to instruct me in how to make them and I am so glad for that because today, one of my daughter's favorite foods is the Southern Style Green Beans I make on occasion.  And I thought I might share that recipe with YOU because I know it's what my daddy would've wanted

Southern Style Green Beans:

The Fixins:

*1 to 2 pounds fresh green beans (cleaned with the ends clipped and the 'rib strings' pulled.)

*4-8 slices of thick smoked breakfast bacon (I didn't say it was 'healthy')

*1 large sweet onion chopped into quarters (no smaller, trust me on this one and look for Vidalia onions, they're SO good!) 

*4 tablespoons of salted butter (go ahead and use the salted kind or you'll just have to add a lot more salt directly into the mix! And do NOT use margarine. GROSS! Real butter is natural and our bodies can process 'natural' a thousand times better than that fake stuff!)

*1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (Yes, it MUST be apple cider vinegar. And don't rush to put it back in the pantry because you might find that you need more!)

*1 tablespoon dried Rosemary (Sure use the fresh kind if you want but the dried works just as well) 

*Salt and pepper to taste.

****You NEED a DEEP cast iron skillet or cast iron Dutch oven for this dish***

Actually, if you don't have either you REALLY need to get them.  As well as all the other sizes you can. NOTHING beats cast iron for cooking.  If it's seasoned 'just so' and taken care of food will NOT stick to it...ever! 

You'll also need a stove top for convenience (this I say because you can actually cook these over a camp fire or on low-n-slow grill but I'd wait until you master the stove top method first)

Putting the Fixins together:

1. Using the cast iron skillet you ran out and bought because you don't want to ruin these amazing beans with anything other than the 'perfect' cooking vessel, you will put in ALL of the fixins. 

2. Cover your fixins with water. 

3. Put a lid over your fixins (if you don't have a lid large enough...use a large plate. Just make sure to use one with enough of an overhang that you can grab the edge with a pot holder to remove it!) 

4. Set the burner or your flame (if you have a gas stove) to medium high and bring the beans to a boil. 

5. Turn down the temperature to low and let those beans slow cook for about 4 hours. Yes, at least 4 hours (Yes, you can cook them faster but it requires a lot of tending...this low-n-slow method is guaranteed to make people beg for dinner)

6. Every 30 minutes or so, check to see if you need to add more water. Taste the beans every so often for 'doneness' the longer they simmer the better they become. As they cook down, you might want to add in a bit more cider vinegar. Just add about a teaspoonful at a time if so as you don't want to overpower the beans.

7. You'll know they ready when the bacon is stringy and falls apart, the onion has practically disappeared and the beans have a soft body that melts in your mouth.



**Hints**

1. Don't over stir the beans when they get close to being done or they'll turn to mush. 

2. Make sure you've always got enough water to cover the beans or they'll burn. 

There you go. Hope you enjoy!

And that’s all I’ve got…til next time!

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