JR and I met at a local golf course where I was the bartender and he was a member. Member implies something fancy, and, in that regard, is a bit of a misnomer used in reference to this particular golf course. Around town it was known as a rowdy, blue collar club. However, he did pay dues, and I did sling drinks, and so we met, while I bartended and he frequented.
Being slightly less hoity toity than country club, I also served as a short-order cook and hot dog steamer lady. Fill the metal mini-Big Top replica hot dog steamer with water, add dogs to their compartment, add rolls to their compartment, leave them all in the Big Top steamer for 4 to 6 hours if no one showed up to eat them, toss them out at closing, then drain the water. Repeat the next day.
However, I did make a mean burger. I was a good and speedy beer bottle opener, but of my two primary tasks (this does not include socializing, for socializing was my very most favorite non-job-description task), I most enjoyed my time in front of the hot griddle, burgers spitting fat at me, their accoutrement sizzling alongside: mushrooms, onions, peppers.
“It smells like the Brockton Fair in here,” JR would yell out as he sauntered in from the ninth green – presumably in an effort to charm me, not knowing where this relationship with the barmaid/cook might take him (or us). One slice of processed cheese would be placed directly atop the burger, the mushrooms or onions and peppers set on that slice of cheese, the vegetables then secured to the burger by topping with a second slice of cheese, melted until a seal had been formed. Beer bottles would be set upon the bar, and burgers distributed throughout (“Bartender, sprinkle the infield,” one of JR’s famous phrases, serving as the call for another round for the weary (ahem) golfers.).
Just as I was known for my swiftness in getting beer from cooler to counter in my younger years, Brockton, Massachusetts was known for its fair. A tawdry affair with bearded ladies, half-men half-beasts, drunken patrons, and the constant aroma of sauteed onions and peppers hanging in the humid summer evening air. It’s not clear to me why parents took children to this event back then – or at least to the side show portion of the event – as many, including JR (though his experience was in the 60s as opposed to mine in the 80s), had frightening experiences with one or more of the participants in the side show, and, truly, one would think that the promotion of what amounted to a freak show would have been considered beyond gauche even in the 1980s. Not so in Brockton, however.
Brockton is situated in an ideal location on the South Shore of Massachusetts, on the corridor that leads from Boston to Cape Cod, surrounded by lovely towns with antique Colonial homes, quaint little squares, and upper-end incomes. This prosperity has evaded Brockton, and it has long been rough and tumble – as though a long-lived summer fair with a freak show wouldn’t give that away. Marvin Hagler grew up in Brockton; I imagine that boxing skill would be a requirement for any man growing up in Brockton in the 1960s. As recently as a month ago, a former Brockton High School student was shot in the school’s gymnasium; his assailant got away. But Brockton is making its best attempt to revitalize itself, recognizing its enviable proximity to Boston and beaches, and promoting itself as an economical and commuter-convenient alternative to the neighboring towns. Affordable housing is abundant, and despite the recent shooting, Brockton High School was named one of the nation’s best high schools (one of 1,750) by U.S. News and World Report last month.
When I walked my mother and brother through our garden this past May, I proudly pointed out my small stand of Brockton Bean sprouts. My super-smart brother – young victim of a scarring Brockton Fair Zipper ride/vomiting/favorite-Jethro-Tull-t-shirt-having-to-be-thrown-into-the-trash-immediately experience – turned an incredulous eye to me, “Brockton? Brockton-Brockton?” “Yes, Brockton-Brockton,” was my reply, “apparently, before Brockton hit the skids, they developed a bean there.”
The bean was introduced to market by the Aaron Low Seed Company of Essex, MA in 1885, the seed having been provided by a Brockton vendor. The seeds are stunning both as pods (mottled pink and light green) on the vine, and as dried beans, with a pale taupe-pink base and maroon-red spots. Their flesh is creamy, while the skins are firm – a hearty and satisfying bean for a cold winter’s day.
The small planting in this year’s garden yielded only about one cup of dried beans, so during this weekend’s Southeastern Massachusetts Blizzard of 2009 – or snowstorm, whichever – I went all Alpine-style comfort food cooking, roasting quartered potatoes with olive oil and thyme along with a pound of sweet Italian sausage, and made a slurry of Brockton Beans. I like the sound of the word “slurry”; the beans themselves were not at all concrete- or coal-like (and I’m blatantly ignoring the manure connotations), though the end result was a semi-liquid, and rather satisfying, side dish.
- 1 cup Brockton Beans, or similar medium-sized dried bean, well-rinsed and picked over for dirt, soaked overnight in a medium mixing bowl with enough water to cover the beans by at least 2-inches and with room to allow the beans to expand without tumbling over the sides of the bowl.
- 1 medium carrot, washed, unpeeled, quartered
- 1 stalk celery, washed, trimmed, and quartered
- 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and cracked with the blunt end of a knife or the back of a spoon to release oils
- 2 to 3 large leaves fresh sage
- Enough water to cover the beans by at least 2-inches in the cooking pot, 3 to 4 cups
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium carrot, peeled, trimmed, finely chopped
- 1 stalk celery, washed, trimmed, finely chopped
- 1 medium onion, peeled, trimmed, finely chopped
- 2 medium cloves garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon dried sage, crumbled
- cooked beans from the above cooking process
- 2 cups reserved bean-cooking liquid
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- Place the soaked beans in a large saucepan, then add the carrot, celery, onion, garlic clove, and sage leaves into the pan, and cover the whole lot with enough water to cover the beans by at least two inches. You're aiming for 2 cups of reserved cooking water at the end of all of this, so 3 to 4 cups of water should do.
- Bring the contents of the pot to a gentle simmer over medium heat, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for approximately 2 hours, or until the beans are creamy inside and still have slightly firm skin.
- Remove the pot from the heat. Using a colander, strain the cooking liquid into a heat-proof bowl, then remove the carrot, celery, and as much of the onion as you are able from the beans and discard those veggies. If there is a bit of onion remaining among your beans, not to worry.
- Measure 2 cups of the bean cooking liquid, which, in the case of the Brockton Bean liquid will be a pale pink-brown color, and set aside.
- Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat, then add the carrot, celery, onion, and garlic cloves. Cook slowly until the vegetables are softened, and the onion is translucent, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the thyme and crumbled sage, stirring well.
- Pour the beans into the pan, then the reserved bean cooking liquid, and cook until the liquid is reduced by approximately half, 15 to 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste (do not skip the salt - it highlights the flavor and if you don't use it, you may think that my taste buds hallucinate the glory of this dish. They do not, I can assure you.), and serve the beans forth.
Estimated cost for Brockton Beans in Brockton Bean Liquid: $3.08. The beans were about 1-cent per seed. I seeded three plants, so that’s 3-cents. I will most definitely seed more next year. If you purchased similar dried beans, they would run around $1.50 per pound at the farmers market (or around 85-cents per pound in the grocery bulk section) and 1 cup is roughly 1/2 pound, so $3.83-ish or $3.51-ish if you don’t have homegrown Brockton Beans in your cupboard. The carrots for the whole dish were around 14-cents. The onions were around $1.00 (though, actually, I grew them, so they were at a lower cost to me), the celery was around 40-cents. The garlic was around 15-cents. The sage was no more than $1.00 for fresh (it would be about half of one of those $1.99 supermarket packages of sage, and if you wanted to dry some of it out for the cooked-in-liquid portion of this recipe, just hang it upside down for a couple of days in a warm, dry location. I use my kitchen cabinet knobs for this sort of drying activity.). The olive oil was 36-cents. The water is free. That’s it. And the beans are delicious. I can’t wait to make the Jacob’s Cattle beans I bought last week at the farmers market, in fact. With sausage. And potato. Too much starch, but, oh, who cares? It’s winter.
Dinner tonight: Baked Rigatoni with Tiny Meatballs and Simple Red Sauce. Estimated cost for two: $2.64. JR and I set out on Saturday with a perilously low balance in both of our bank accounts, a need for milk, butter, and meaty options for a snowy weekend. We cobbled together enough money to fetch a pound of ground meat (beef, pork, veal mix), and a pound of sausage (famously roasted to go along with the Brockton Beans). The ground meat was $4.04 by the time it was wrapped up ($3.79 per pound at my favorite Italian market), I used around 50-cents in panko breadcrumbs, a healthy smattering of dried oregano from the garden, two eggs (52-cents), a splash – or 1/4 cup-ish amount – of milk (13-cents), and around 50-cents in Pecorino Romano cheese. The oil for frying ran me around 96-cents, I used a can of tomatoes for $1.50 for the sauce and skipped the aromatics (and soffritto), and ended up with 24 mini meatballs. JR and I had five with dinner yesterday, and tonight, the remaining 16 (lunches have to be taken into account, too, you know), plus leftover sauce, plus some additional milk (25-cents’ worth) to thin the sauce will be combined with $1.00 rigatoni (love the 10 for $10 scheme), and a half a bag of shredded mozzarella at $1.25 (purchased on sale, of course). So, the meatballs plus simple red sauce cost $8.15 for 24, therefore 16 leftover meatballs runs us $5.43. Plus rigatoni, milk, and cheese, that gets us to $7.93 for 6 servings, or $1.32 per serving.