Why is it, that as humans, we have the ability to understand such things as “learning”, and yet just when we are in the middle of a critical learning experience, we are saddened by the experience, instead of being filled with joy? I’m speaking of learning by failure, which my father always would remind me, is the very best way to learn! And although I have no doubt now that he was correct, I still wonder why we consider failure to be such a negative thing? Any insight out there?
I am dwelling on this question because I’ve just had one of those prime learning experiences, and I have absolutely no joy as a result. I am a bean lover, and over the years I’ve had so many fantastic tastes of beans in Mexico, that whenever we now drive into that area I make a point to bring back some of those dry beans – and it was with some of those Mexican beans that this specific learning experience centers.
With great anticipation, I slipped two cups of my soaked, Mexican dry beans into my crockpot, along with some choice additions intended to make these a simple but superb dish – I set the pot to “low” and went off to bed. I love waking the next morning to the welcoming smell of a pot of beans that have spent the night plumping, softening, and flavoring themselves to perfection – and I am not above immediately eating a “mess a beans” early in the morning; it is after all, one of God’s great gifts to man. With eager emotion, I slipped the lid from the gently simmering beans, stirred, and raised the spoon for that first heavenly taste.
Actually, I knew the second my spoon made its initial stir, that these beans were a failure – bean makers soon learn from the feel of a wooden spoon hitting the beans, just what stage of cooking the beans are at – and the feel of these was telling me that they had not softened much at all. In fact, my past bean failures all came rushing back to me in that split second, and filled my mind with more information than I’m able to process in that instant – but I do remember being left with one, over-riding thought – “Why is it taking you so long to learn that dry beans do not improve with age?”
Believe it or not (regardless, it’s true), I cooked those suckers for more than 40 hours before I finally threw them in the garbage can – I did this more as an experiment, and yes, I can tell you that it is absolutely true that some beans WILL NOT SOFTEN, no matter “HOW LONG” you cook them!
Have I finally learned this lesson? Not likely. Why? Well, mainly because I’ve made this mistake before and haven’t learned not to repeat it – so, …. Upon reflection, I think my old man was right when he would frequently say that making mistakes is the best way for man to learn – but what he failed to tell me was that sometimes other things get in the way of learning these lessons – such as simple stupidity (my case, I fear), masochism, or even an over optimistic opinion that somehow, this time it’ll be different.
Even chimpanzees learn, they say … but then, we’re not chimpanzees, are we?
I cannot leave this subject without sharing one of my most memorable “bean” recollections. In 2004, Sandee and I undertook a drive down the east side of California, and then turned east to go through Texas and Louisiana into Florida, to visit San’s mother, who was ill. It was one of those trips that one dreads taking, but later realizes was a high point of one’s life – simply a magnificent journey.
On our way back through Texas, we happened on a supermarket, to gather local supplies that are not available up here in Oregon. I noticed a HUGE display of ten and twenty pound bags of pinto beans – interestingly, these beans were not from Texas, but rather Colorado, specifically, the Dove Creek area. I took from this fact that they must be something special since Texas certainly grows plenty of its own pinto beans – so I bought a ten pound bag.
Of course you know that I wouldn’t be telling you this unless these were special beans – but these were more than special, they were easily the best beans I’ve ever had in my mouth! And the first time I made them, I used a utterly simple recipe from a guy named Bushie, a legendary character from one of my old haunts, the website, Roadfood.com. Bushie was a native Texan who was not above rejecting much of what the world thought was solid Texas food (such as Tex-Mex, etc.) – Bushie was a champion of simplicity, and his famous beans, a case in point.
- Two cups of quality dry, new pinto beans, soaked overnight
- ¼ – ½ lb. good salt pork
- 6 cups of water
- Chop the salt pork into ½ inch pieces
- Drain and rinse your soaked beans
- Put all ingredients into a crockpot or dutch oven
- Bring to a boil, and immediately lower heat to a simmer (or set crockpot to low)
- Cover and cook for several hours, stirring frequently – add water if needed
- Taste often during cooking – beans are done when the mouth-feel is right
- Do not add salt until beans are fully cooked – you may find they don’t need any
Don’t let the utter simplicity of these beans keep you from trying them. Simplicity is another of life’s lessons that we continually fail to remember – and this dish is a prime example.
And if you a bean lover as I am, you should try some of Dove Creek, Colorado’s pintos. This is also a source for the legendary Anasazi bean, which I have not yet tried. Yes, the shipping cost is high (about $13 for a ten pound bag), but given the low cost of these of highest quality beans, the per pound cost for what may prove to be the very best beans you’ve ever tasted, is low indeed! I urge you to try them.