As Luck Would Have It: Beans and Taters

Some foods or recipes have hints of luck about them. There are many different varieties of luck, of course.

Beans and Taters is a dish that is steeped in luck. It’s a dish that is also surrounded by lore.

Though it is known all over the South,  you won’t find a recipe for it in most of the usual suspects of cookbooks where “native Southern recipes” abide. And though the phrase “beans and taters” is one immediately recognizable and known to most Southerners (particularly those with rural roots) you won’t find it listed in slang dictionaries or in regular dictionaries or in the larger (Oxford on food, Cambridge on food, Southern Culture) encyclopedia sets. There is a newly released (this year) Encyclopedia of Southern Culture  which has an entire volume on food and food culture. I’m hoping to see if it is listed there!

You hear about beans and taters through luck if you’ve not grown up knowing it. My piece of luck happened when a neighbor of mine in an area of the rural South called me one day asking for a ride into town. Her car (pronounce that as that ve-hi-cle please, and with no self-consciousness either) had broken down. Luck had run out for her, in that moment.

During the ride to town, her young son was talking about food. He wanted some special thing for supper that night. My friend’s response was “Way things are going we just might be eating beans and taters for some time!” Because fixing vehicles sometimes cost money that sometimes was not to be found in that particular rural area –  in that particular rural area, if there were horses they were not run to the hounds.

The thing is that “beans and taters” was said with a musical lilt when she said it. And there was no sadness in her voice. Apparently beans and taters (yes, very musical the phrase is) is a dish born of bad luck but one that has good luck inside it. It is filled with pleasure, gladness, and gratitude. It is loved.

Luck also touches beans and taters in its inception: the lithe green beans or sturdy other sorts are ready to pluck from  their vines in the garden at the same time the tiny new potatoes are ready to start digging up. Just look at any farmer’s market right now if you don’t have a garden, and see them sitting there on the same table. The two are silent partners.

Luck being what it is, beans and taters is not one recipe. They are many, and from an oral tradition. Two stand out as the most common examples: A green bean and bacon stew topped with little shiny new potatoes steamed on top. And a pinto and saltback or bacon stew sided by fried potatoes. These make the meal – there’s not any need for too much else aside from cornbread, unless there is more there to have . . . if the luck is running strong beans and taters can move themselves quietly from the center of the table to a side to serve with one of those huge picnic spreads of fried chicken, chow chow, sliced tomatoes, the endless variety of things from the fields and garden that crow from the rural end-of-summer table.

I’ve noticed a few blog-posts showing up on beans and taters lately. That’s lucky. I’ve noticed that a topic thread filled with the most wonderful commentary on beans and taters has disappeared from the pages of an online food forum. That’s unlucky.

But they say one chooses their own luck, and I still feel lucky to have heard the words “beans and taters” and to have tasted them made by my own hands afterwards in my own home kitchen.

It’s lucky that there’s a guy called Shane Adkins who wrote a song called “Beans and Taters” – and lucky that he’s been kind enough to post it on his website where we can sample it. I love this song. It’s full of joy.

The only print resource I’ve found with a recipe for beans and taters is in a book by Loretta Lynn titled “You’re Cookin’ It Country”. Her recipe is made with pork jowl, sugar, salt and pepper, fresh green beans and new potatoes – and when she writes of beans and taters the luck emerges again. The hunger of poverty, the pride of finding something to hold on to when nothing seemed to be there, and the joy of taste and comfort those lucky beans and taters hold within them.

I’m thinking of that saying: “If it weren’t for bad luck I’d have no luck at all”. This guy’s got it wrong. He’s just got to find himself some beans and taters.

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2 thoughts on “As Luck Would Have It: Beans and Taters

  1. I want to hug you right now! Great piece, Karen.

    BTW, where I grew up (a teeny town in extremely rural South Louisiana), we ate beans and taters on white rice! Seriously! There was typically a small piece of meat alongside, but not always. Must have had something to do with luck!

    The other odd thing is that we never really called the dish “beans n taters”. Instead, they were just green beans. Like they most certainly always belonged together with those taters! 🙂

  2. Well, there you have more proof of the luck of beans and taters, ’cause I got a hug!

    Mmm. Beans and taters on rice sounds pretty good, actually. Especially with a good shake of hot sauce over the top of it all! 🙂 🙂

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