Eternal-wind-woman was daydreaming as she buried a huge clay pot of beans in a small pit, carefully pushing a specially accumulated pile of glowing embers around and over it for even cooking.
Daydreaming was a habit she had got into when tending the cooking fire and especially so when the cooking involved beans.
Her grandmother had given her the adult name of Eternal-wind-woman. She claimed that in a vision she had seen that something her granddaughter would do would be of particular benefit to future inhabitants of the earth. So her childhood name, Sparkling-rainbow-water, belonged in the past.
Eternal-wind-woman daydreamed about what this big thing she was born to do could possibly be. A thing that would spread far beyond her ancestral tribal limits, travel further than the sky-rising tepee smoke of home and hearth and endure much longer than the tough soles of her new buffalo leather moccasins.
Meanwhile, she cooked beans.
Every single day she cooked beans.
Turning humble dried haricot beans or other white beans into that special dish we all love
Fresh white beans, dried white beans, beans with greens, beans with pumpkin, beans with venison, beans with bear fat, beans with molasses, beans with mustard greens. Every day she cooked beans, as beans were the easiest crop to grow and to store.
The recipe for the pot of beans currently baking in the earth was one she had invented over time, playing around and experimenting with ingredients until the tantalising aroma drew people to sit around the fire circle way ahead of eating time.
Eternal-wind-woman was immensely proud of her special baked bean dish and prouder still when colonising Europeans traded bright cotton threads, mystical mirrors and beads for the secret of its ingredients. In about 1650, when the Europeans claimed her recipe as their own, she felt honoured by the theft and calmly went back to daydreaming of her grandmother’s prophecy.
The commercial baked beans of global fame were, thanks to a Native American lady with a name that just may have been Eternal-wind-woman, in the first stage of being born.
500g dried haricot or other white beans
500g fatty mutton or beef on the bone washed and cut into chunks. (Meat is optional)
1 large onion, peeled, sliced and chopped
3 teaspoons ginger/garlic paste
A little cooking oil or ghee
1 kg chopped tomatoes
Half a litre thick tomato juice
1 heaped tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons molasses or treacle (Molasses is a bi-product of the sugar industry and can be found in some dry goods bazaars although you may have to order it)
1 soup spoon sharp mustard powder or freshly crushed white mustard seeds
Salt and pepper to taste
You may like to add chopped fresh or dried chillies, to your personal taste, for additional kick
Soak the dried beans in water overnight — if you add a teaspoon of bicarbonate-of-soda to the soaking water, it helps soften the beans, thus speeding up cooking time.
Next morning, rinse the beans and put them into a large pan — one with a heavy base is best. Cover with fresh water, bring to the boil and then simmer for 15-20 minutes, skimming off any froth that forms, remove from heat and set aside.
In a second heavy-bottomed pan pour in enough oil/melted ghee to cover the base and switch on the heat at low.
Add the onion, ginger/garlic paste and meat, if using it, to the pan and fry until the meat and onions are nicely browned.
Then add the mustard powder/crushed white mustard seeds, plus chillies if used, and stir for another couple of minutes.
Next, add the chopped tomatoes, tomato juice, brown sugar, molasses/treacle and salt and pepper to taste.
Cover and simmer, stirring often, until the sauce is fairly thick and the meat almost done.
If baking in an oven, you will need a very large casserole dish.
Drain the water off the beans but do not throw it away.
Spread a layer of beans in the bottom of the casserole dish and then cover them with a layer of the meat and sauce — stir some of the reserved bean water into the sauce if it seems to be very thick. Continue, in layers, until the casserole dish is three quarters
full, finishing with meat/sauce and pouring in more of the reserved bean water if needed.
Cover and bake at low to medium heat until beans and meat are tender and the sauce is rich and thick. This will take one to two hours depending on the toughness of the beans and of the meat.
Alternatively — and easier — simply add the drained beans to the pan of sauce and meat and simmer, stirring regularly, until both meat and beans are thoroughly cooked, adding reserved bean water as and when required.
Serve hot, accompanied by rice, mashed potatoes, with spaghetti or hot naan/chapatti or — as is popular in many countries — on hot, buttered toast.
Published in Dawn, EOS, December 27th, 2020