I grew up far from the deep south. The only Southerners I knew were the Duke cousins and their sworn enemy, a swine of a man in a deceptive white suit and hat. Foods of the south were never on our menu. My dad grew up in Minnesota where they put mayonnaise on tacos. My education in southern foods got off the ground late in life. I didn’t try grits until I was 40 and I have never had pecan pie. To create something as glorious as a pie out of squirrel food is shameful.
Red beans and rice got lodged in my head as I contemplated this week’s meals. My husband made it once about a year ago and it was okay. Nobody clamored for it’s addition into regular rotation. Maybe my current preoccupation with making red beans and rice is because I’ve been quoting lines from “Steel Magnolias” to my teenaged daughter. She isn’t the best at accessorizing. The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize., I tell her. In the movie, Annelle prepares a pot of red beans and rice for M’Lynn because of the kidney transplant hospitalization. According to Annelle, it freezes beautifully, too. The combination screams comfort, spice, hearty, belly-fillig ease. I found a recipe for the slow cooker and assembled the ingredients.
The first step was to soak a pound of kidney beans overnight. I poured them into a bowl and covered them with several inches of water, giving them a good stir before heading to bed. In the morning, the bowl of beans greeted me with the news the red in red beans isn’t permanent. The water was the color of Annelle’s lipstick when she went through her unfortunate Mardi Gras phase. After taking the kids to school, I returned home to assemble dinner. I sliced andouille, rinsed the beans, and dumped them together in crockery. I added spices and seasonings and a quart of water, then clicked the dial to low. The recipe claimed in seven hours, we’d eat. As the day passed, an amazing aroma filled the house. Every time I walked through the kitchen, I tapped the lid to get the water droplets clinging to the inside to drop down. Waiting for dinner wasn’t easy.
At the eight hour mark—an hour after the recipe suggested—I started steaming the rice. Maybe I should check the beans? I thought. I took off the lid and scooped out a nice representative bite. The beans were barely tender. It made no sense. I cranked the dial to high and announced we’d give dinner another half hour to cook. Sorry. The taste-delay-taste-delay spiral continued for two more hours. It was late, kids were hungry, and I was angry. How could I wreck something so simple? People had been cooking beans since they decided not to put them in their ears, so why couldn’t I manage? I searched for “cooking red beans” on my phone to see if maybe I forgot an important step: OH! I didn’t sing to them! During my research, I learned undercooked red beans can actually cause food poisoning because of some enzyme that doesn’t break down unless properly cooked.
Visions of piles of sick leaking people flooded my imagination. We made macaroni and cheese and I got take-out tacos. Without mayonnaise.
I surrendered the red beans and sausage to several more hours of cooking, mostly out of spite. Yeah, beans, I’ll show you tender. They sustained an unprecedented assault: 13 hours of cooking after nearly 10 hours of soaking. With beans under duress and mostly out of mind, I watched Disney’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” with my kids. Quasi Modo and Quasi Dinner. Frollo and Folly. The movie ended and I steered kids to bed. My youngest daughter and I visited the kitchen. “Is it ready?” she asked. I laughed and said it really didn’t matter at that point. The day was over, she needed to sleep. I needed to sleep. But let’s check.
Impossible beans, you were impossible. Until you weren’t. They were perfect. “Yum!” she said and I agreed. The concoction that was demoted from dinner, replaced by boxed pasta and fast tacos, had grown into something lovely and hearty, better than good. She helped me find storage containers. The next night’s dinner was in hand, done. We went to bed leaving it resting on the counter, cooling. My husband lidded them later, a night owl’s job.
I’ll never know if it freezes beautifully because after we dove into it, finally, there was nothing left. One day’s ridiculous futility meant another day’s smiling satisfaction, so silly and trivial but kind of amazing, too. Maybe the laws of thermodynamics were temporarily suspended in the walls of my dark-green, 17-year-old slow cooker. Maybe next time I should sing to the beans. Maybe next time, I could buy canned.