Guest post and photos by Marcia in Rhode Island.
Times a gettin’ hard boys,
Money’s gettin’ scarce.
~1930s dustbowl tune by Lee Hays
Ours is a town of rock and water. Underground streams and pockets of water secreted within granite ledges supply our wells. Our water is pure, delicious, and abundant -- a fact which is appreciated by much of urban Rhode Island.
Today, in the early morning mist, I walked along the banks of a brook until I came to the river. This river feeds the reservoir, which in turn supplies the drinking water for much of the state, though not for our town.
The essential ingredient of my pantry is not in a cupboard; it’s stored a couple of hundred feet underground. When asked, it races to the house at a breakneck pace of 22 gallons a minute.
Yes, my underground treasure is water.
My cooking days are filled with its riches: cups of coffee, bowls of oatmeal, pots of stewing hens, baskets of steamed vegetables…. all of which begin with water from our well.
When a frugal meal is called for (and if not now, when?!) set the stage with water. Then add a bag of dried beans. The rest is embellishment, depending on what you have. And if you have nothing else, it’s still delicious, filling, and nourishing.
This recipe may be doubled, tripled, quadrupled. Actually this really isn’t a recipe, it’s a suggestion of ingredients. Amounts given are based on what’s in the fridge, the cupboard, and the root cellar.
Bailout bean soup
Serves a crowd; make a lot, and freeze it.
1 cup dried pinto beans
3 cups diced sweet potatoes
1 -2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red, or green, bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp chili powder (or to taste)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp Mexican oregano
1/2 tsp smoked Spanish paprika
1 bay leaf
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1 copy MFK Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf
Additions or substitutions: 1 canned chipotle pepper, 1 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped tomatoes, strong coffee, tomatoes, winter squash, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce.
Follow your favorite method of cooking dried beans. I soak them overnight in fresh cold well water. In the morning, place beans in a stock pot and, using fresh water to cover, bring beans and bay leaf to boil, then reduce to simmer for 1 to 1-1/2 hours until tender.
While the beans are simmering, read Chapter IV “How to Boil Water” from How to Cook a Wolf. Fisher writes with elegance, raucous humor and common sense. Written during wartime shortages of food and money, her book is seasoned with recipes, advice and philosophy for keeping the wolf at bay.
Bring water to boil in a small sauce pan, and add diced sweet potatoes. Cook until tender, about 10-15 minutes.
Drain beans, reserving liquid. To the liquid, add brown sugar and seasonings. Whisk until thoroughly incorporated.
In a small frying pan, sauté the onion, garlic, peppers in oil until the onions are translucent. Stir in seasoned bean cooking liquid and simmer for a few minutes. Add the beans and sweet potatoes. If needed, add boiling water. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until it suits you.
With bailout beans, a mess of collards and green chile cornbread, you will, to paraphrase Fisher, hear the wolf’s “sad sigh, and then the diminishing click of his claws as he retreats down the hall and out into the foggy night.”
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