This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Green Beans and Bacon

My recent review of The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan set me to thinking about the Okie influences in my upbringing. Of course, whenever I get to thinking about that I inevitably find my way to the topic of food. The table, or "the board"as Gramma Willie referred to it, was the focal point of the home. It was where the family always gathered twice a day weekdays and three times on the weekends.

My Okie Gramma Willie served up simple great food and plenty of it whenever we would visit her ramshackle home in Bakersfield, California in the 50's and 60's. Fried chicken, black-eyed peas, home-made biscuits and gravy. The traditions of her table also influenced the food that went on my mother's table.
As I was preparing a Christmas dinner menu for Christmas 2008, I thought of my Gramma Willie's grean beans with bacon. So simple and about as far away from anything gourmet as you can get, yet they are so incredibly rich with a smoky flavor of bacon.

The recipe:

Gramma Willie's Green Beans with Bacon

6 cans of Blue Lake green beans
6 slices of bacon
salt and pepper to taste

Open all the cans of green beans and dump the entire contents (yes, even the water) into a crock pot. Slice the bacon into chunks about 1-inch wide. Add into crock pot with beans. A few grinds of cracked black pepper and salt the beans to taste. Adjust seasoning after cooking. Turn crock pot on to low and let simmer for 10-14 hours. The longer the better! Beans will darken in color, mush down and bacon will cook through. Stir beans occasionally. Serves 8-10 as a side dish.

Yeah, I know it seems too simple, but remember that a lot of the best things in life are. Try it if you haven't. I think you'll love it.

Note: You can use fresh green beans, it just takes longer to cook them down. I have tried it and I still like the canned variety better for this recipe. Probably just my Okie genes! You can also add some sauted shallots or onions and you can also fry up the bacon before adding to the green beans. Options!
Bon apetit!

Great Books for Great Readers #1

I steer to one side of my series of book reviews centered around cooking and highlight a book that gives life to an era in American history that has a special place in my heart. The book--The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan has won a National Book Award for a beautiful, yet heartbreaking story.

I grew up in a family whose roots were literally in the Dust Bowl of the 1930's. My mother's parents were what were called Okies, a derisive term that labeled a group of folks trying to escape a life of misery and hoping to restart their lives by moving to other areas of America. Many went to California as did my grandparents. Californians rejected them, forcing many to turn back at the borders; others who made it in were not allowed to settle in towns so they built ramshackle Hoovervilles on the edge of towns. Vigilante citizens often with the tacit approval of the law bulldozed or burned many Hoovervilles forcing the residents to keep moving. Those that found work often only found more misery.

Parts of Texas, Colorado, Arkansas, Oklahoma and other midwestern states were opened to the land rushes and homesteading that allowed Americans and foreighers to have a last chance at getting a piece of America just by settling and farming or ranching the land. For these farmers this was a dream come true. The virgin land was ready to be tilled and planted and they tore up millions of acres. They planted wheat and some even got wealthy as long as the wheat prices stayed high during and right after World War I. But the price began to fall over the years until the price paid for wheat went below what it cost to produce. Farmers who had ben given extensions of credit bought tractors and cars and built homes. But when they could no longer pay their bills, they found themselves in big trouble. As if that weren't enough, the Great Depression struck in 1929 and banks began to fail across America. Many of these farmers lost all they had saved putting them deeper into debt. Then the 1930's saw a horrendous seven year drought. Suddenly nothing would grow. Poor agricultural practices soon had the parched land beginning to literally blow away. Dust storms of epic proportions, wind blowing across the prarie tore lose the top soil and blew it across America. Combined with blistering summer heat and frigid cold winters, misery made up their daily lives. These courageous people tried to stay and thousands died trying--trying to hang onto a dying dream.

Franklin Roosevelt was elected president and slowly began creating programs to help, but for many people it was too late. Whole towns simply disappeared in the roiling sand storms or were abandoned by those trying to escape. Areas once inhabited by thousands today count only hundreds of citizens if any at all.

This story is simultaneously heart breaking and awe inspriring. The greatest generation is often decribed as those brave souls who fought World War II, but the Okies of the Dust Bowl era were every bit as brave and courageous at a time when their own country all but forgot about them, even rejected them.
I long ago found great respect for my grandparents and their story as migrant farm workers during that historic period. Having read this story gives me even greater reason to honor their memory for the sacrifices they made that gave me so many opportunities they were denied.

For American history buffs this is a must read!