Over the years, green beans have symbolized the great differences between my parents and me.
I grew up in the deep South where green beans, like all vegetables, were simmered for hours with a substantial chunk of pork fat. We cooked them this way because for centuries our ancestors had cooked them this way.
I woke up to food during the nouvelle era, that historical nanosecond of the barely cooked vegetable. If yours didn’t crunch, you were old school. It was a beautifully awkward adolescence. For a short time I remember sugaring vegetables like beets, carrots, and sugar snap peas to heighten their natural sweetness. Just as quickly I returned to time-honored salt.
I remember Mom and Dad’s first visit after I got married. I couldn’t wait to enlighten them with my new way of cooking green beans. I was miffed when they left my beautifully bright, stick-straight, under-seasoned crisp green beans on their plate. Why didn’t they get that this new way was better, fresher, healthier, more attractive? Not only did they not like them, they left me feeling like I didn’t know how to cook.
To remind me of my roots (and persuade me back to the fold) Mom and Dad cooked green beans with cornbread every time I’d visit them. As I crumbled cornbread into the greasy gray pot liquor, I thought, “How quaint.”
Believing that one more try might convert them, I kept serving Mom and Dad my green beans. I knew they didn’t love them, but at least they didn’t leave them on their plate any more.
Once I remember getting into a battle of wills. Green beans were on the menu and Mom didn’t think there was time to cook them. I cooked the beans, turning them off when I thought they were done. Mom turned them back on. Thinking I had just forgotten to turn them off, I turned them off a second time. Mom turned them back on. Neither of us was happy with the green beans that night.
About the time nouvelle morphed into authentic, I started to appreciate Mom and Dad’s pork-braised beans. What I used to see as a murky, mushy, homely broth became a subtly satisfying pork-flavored bean stew. I finally got why they call it soul food.
My parents and I are in Houston this week for Mom’s yearly sarcoma check-up. Not wanting to eat out every night, we’re in a suite with a kitchenette. Our first night we need something homey and wholesome. I pick up a rotisserie chicken, assemble a salad, smash some potatoes, and steam-sauté green beans.
As she stems, Mom critiques, “These sure are good looking beans.” I place them in the skillet with a smidgen of water, a nice lump of butter, and a generous sprinkling of salt. Minutes from dinner Mom asks, “Have you started the green beans?” I lid the skillet, turn the heat on high, and respond, “Yes!” Before we sit down for salad I test the beans, beautifully green but not quite cooked. To preserve their color, I remove the lid. So they cook through, I turn the heat to low, and so Mom (and I) will like them, I sprinkle on a little more salt.
Mom and Dad both savored the meal, eating every green bean on their plate And I swear, I really swear it happened. Mom said, “These green beans are di-lish.”
I had a similar experience with Andy. He has, since the day I met him, proclaimed that he loathes salmon and tuna, much to my dismay as I really love these fish, particularly salmon. It’s easy and delicious and I love me some OMEGA-3! But from the day we got married, salmon never featured on our shopping list. Finally, I got fed up. I really believe that most foods people “don’t like” are just foods they didn’t like as a child and haven’t tried since. So, I decided to combine something he loved (Asian food) with something he thought he “hated” (salmon). I made a teriyaki sauce and marinated the salmon in that for several hours before sautéing it. I served it with coconut rice and simple vegetables with soy sauce and a little extra teriyaki. Andy practically licked his plate clean, and like you mom, I swear he said “Mate, that was awesome!” Haha. Yes, my husband sometimes calls me mate.
Mike V @ DadCooksDinner says
I can vouch for this recipe – I’ve made it about twice a month for, oh, the last ten years or so. (I learned it from Pam’s “How to Cook Without a Book”).
My wife loves green beans. If I don’t make them for a couple of weeks, I get asked when we’re going to have them again.
In fact, I just took pictures of it for my blog…I just haven’t written the post yet. Now I can link to the original source!
There is not much better than a food compliment from my mom!
Pam, my mother and I have the exact same disagreement. She actually calls me a snob when I cook my green beans for less than 45 minutes. I don’t even want to talk about what would happen if I didn’t sweeten my tea (which would never happen, anyway).
Thanks Mike V for the green bean plug and while I’m at it, I’d like to thank you for plugging me on your site. You’ve sent a good bit of traffic my way and I appreciate it! Your site’s cool too and I’ll link to you very soon.
Carolyn, you’re right! There’s nothing much better than getting a compliment from your parents. May we ALL remember that!
And Holly, I hear you. As I age, I’m realizing I’ve got a lot to learn from and teach my kids and my parents.
Mike V @ DadCooksDinner says
You’re welcome, Pam. I’m glad I can send some readers your way. Your site has great art and recipes, and I love the “three voices” approach. It’s fun to hear from you, Sharon and Maggy.