I am not what you would call cultured. I don’t hang out in art galleries. I hate jazz. I don’t slosh wine back and forth in fancy glasses and extoll its floral bouquet. I think art house movies are annoying. I've never read Proust, and, frankly, I'm not even sure how to say his name. No, I am not cultured.
But I do have a culture.
Culture isn’t about being fancy, or at least, I don’t think so. It is a much more casual thing. It's the everyday happenings that fill up our lives. My culture is paint-splattered shoes that should have been thrown out months ago and t-shirts with bleach spots. It's a dog with a muddy rear end and a bucket full of kitchen scraps.
It’s beans and fried taters.
If there were ever a meal that bespoke the culture I grew up in, that would be it. Beans and taters. They evoke the warm sun of my childhood. They make me wax nostalgic. And it seems I’m not the only one who finds poetry in this meal of legumes and spuds.
I did a little google search to find out what other people thought about beans and fried taters, and here’s just a sampling of what I uncovered:
My grandmother used to make these, and I didn’t get the recipe before she passed away.
We had these often growing up.
I have been trying to make these like my mom did . . . when I was growing up.
I am a true Okie and these were a staple growing up.
When I was a kid, beans and fried taters were as common for dinner as milk is for breakfast. Everybody ate them. Well, maybe not everybody. Just poor people like us. But I didn’t know we were poor. All I knew is that we ate a heck of a lot of beans and fried taters.
So what happened, then, to this simple fare? Progress. Progress in the form of boxes of processed food that is quick and cheap. Before this so-called progress, if your stomach was empty and so was your wallet, what you turned to was a pot of beans and a skillet of crisp fried taters. Not anymore. It seems like nowadays they’re appreciated more for the memories they bring back than their affordability.
I, for one, ate a lot of beans and fried taters growing up. My sister, my brother, and I ate so many, we thought it must be our dad’s favorite food. It was! But, of course, that’s not why we had it every night for dinner. As we grew up, my dad worked his way up the financial ladder until more mainstream foods began popping up on our plates--hamburgers, spaghetti, tacos, macaroni and cheese--and less of the more traditional, cash-strapped stuff.
And like many others whom I found online, when I think of this rustic cuisine, I think of my grandma. For as long as I knew her, she made beans and fried taters every night for dinner. There was never any question about it. Every night. Thanksgiving. Christmas. It didn’t matter the occasion. There was always plenty of beans and taters for everyone.
My grandparents worked hard all their lives. I mean HARD. Not 40 hour work weeks. I'm talking about the kind of work that has you out in the fields before the sun’s cracked open the horizon, the kind of work that soaks you in so much sweat that bugs stick to your skin, the kind of work that builds your muscles and breaks your back. They hauled hay, chopped wood, worked in the broom corn fields, and heaven knows what else. Mind you, it was nothing illegal--no, nothing that would have gotten them rich.
By the time I knew my grandparents, they were old. Or at least, to my immature self, they were. And every memory I have of them, I cradle in my brain as gently as a newborn baby.
So when I say beans and fried taters are my culture, this is what I mean. They are a tradition passed down through the generations. They are my family. They are my childhood. And today, when I fix them for my own little girl, I am not just feeding her dinner; I am memorializing our family history.
Word and Book Lover.