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May 20, 2024

The Lowly Bean

By Sand Pilarski

A number of articles on the internet describe the Great Northern Bean as a white bean, similar in shape to the kidney bean, with a distinctive flavor. "A North American bean," the articles say, "the Great Northern bean is popular in the Mediterranean region."

When I read that, I thought it was rather funny; apart from my family, I have never seen or heard about anyone making use of Great Northern Beans for anything but grade school glued mosaics. We had bean soup when I was growing up if money was tight and meat was pricey, or when Dad had a hankering for it.

Mom would open a big can of Great Northern Beans and do something with it. I have no idea what that was, to be honest. Some foods had processes that were interesting to watch; some foods were so tasty that I had to learn how to make them for my culinary soul's self-preservation. But what we called "bean soup" was just a filling, tasty meal that I knew would show up when a bunch of radishes appeared in the refrigerator.

We didn't even eat it as soup. We poured the concoction over a slice of buttered bread, cut the bread into chunks, and ate it, each bite of beans accompanied by a bite of radish. We liked it. We enjoyed it. But the only thing I remember from how my mother prepared it was her admonition to mash the beans.

Looking at radishes in the supermarket this winter, I, like my father, became entranced with the memory of bean soup. Nothing would do but for me to attempt to make some. So I did, and Dad would have been proud. Mom would have been huffy, because mine is much better than hers was.

Because I am lazy, I buy canned Great Northern Beans instead of soaking and rinsing and soaking and rinsing dried beans. I mean, I could do that, but then I would have to endure endless fart jokes from the family while the beans rehydrated. Using canned beans means I can whip up a batch before the family comes home from work.

It's an easy recipe.

3 cans (15 oz) Great Northern beans (also conveniently called "white" beans)
1/2 pound bacon, chopped, fried and drained
1/2 yellow onion, diced
garlic to preference
salt to preference

While the chopped bacon is frying, I chop the onion. When the bacon is done, I drain it on paper towels, then throw it into the soup pot with the diced onion. There's enough fat left in the bacon to cook the onion, but from time to time I add a tablespoon of water to speed the process of cooking the onion without scorching it. If I'm using fresh or minced garlic, I add it at this time. If I'm using garlic powder, I'll add it later.

While the onion and bacon perfume the kitchen, I mash the beans in a separate dish. Oddly enough, the texture of the soup is different and not as pleasant if I use the Cuisinart, so I mash them by hand. It takes a little longer, but while I mash, I have time to enjoy the scents of cooking, and the memory of my youth.

When the onion is semi-transparent, I add the beans, turn the heat to low, and then forget about it except to stir the soup every now and then. The secret to GOOD bean soup is the Patience. I rarely even eat the soup the same day I cook it; by the next morning, what was tasty is then sublime.

Simple, delicious, and it freezes really well -- who could ask for more?

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-01-28
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