While I was out shopping in our local flea market and home of amazeballs finds, I came across BEANS: Enjoyable the World Over. A mini-cookbook and repository of bean knowledge, this li’l joybomb was distributed by the Michigan Bean Shippers Association in 1963. And! Its cover features a foppish kidney bean with pomaded hair and a vest, who sports a cane and carries a top hat. It’s hard to fail when you start this strong.
Thanks to this pamphlet, I’ve learned a lot of things. I know that:
- Nobody knows why we’ve started eating beans.
- Egyptians thought beans were the symbol of life.
- Greeks and Romans voted by tossing beans of different colors on a table.
- People have used beans as a cure for baldness.
- A bean found on the coast of Africa was used to establish the size and weight of a jeweler’s carat. (Though somehow, “It’s a two-bean ring!” doesn’t hold the same allure.)
And there is a nobility to bean commerce that we ought not to overlook. This pamphlet reminds us, “Out of the seaway terminals at Bay City and Port Huron, ships loaded with Michigan Navy Beans sail to the far corners of the earth.”
The tale of Michigan beans is clearly global, and next time I’m at a great lake I will scan the horizon looking for the bean traders making their way back home. I can only hope that’s not what the Edmund Fitzgerald was carrying on its final voyage, as it would be too much to bear for all those beans to have met their dreary demise at the bottom of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee.
The Enjoyable Bean reader is also given an overview of beans and their significance in American culture. Delmonico’s, America’s first official restaurant, apparently served beans on its menu, much to the surprise and delight of New York City diners (though it seems that modern investigative techniques have turned this idea on its head, as the much-touted 1834 Delmonico’s menu may not be the Real Deal. Scandal! Horrors! Where is my fainting couch when I need it?).
General Eisenhower baked his beans, though I suspect he piggybacked on Mamie’s skill to achieve bean-making success. Plus, he used fancy-pants tarragon in his cooking, which I can only imagine was some ill-gotten taste he acquired while traveling overseas managing wars. Conversely (and according to the recipe provided), First Lady Jackie Kennedy was an old-fashioned stay-at-home American-type Mom, who baked her beans with sugar and molasses and love (and the assistance of a classically-trained French chef named René Verdon).
This cookbook is interspersed with all manner of information and advice. For example, did you know that there are about 2100 navy beans in every pound? And did you ever think, when you were out in the wild…
Because the fields of canned beans are heavy with produce; it is exactly what the natives ate.
Though actually, sometimes, their advice is kind of interesting.
I can find out how the French like to eat their beans.
How to prepare Freedom Beans when practicing military maneuvers (because it’s not like you can trust the French; Capitulée! Capitulée!).
And what intoxicating Michigan bean concoction Governor Romney (that’s Mitten’s dad George Romney, mind you, not Mittens himself) can’t live without.
Though I can’t stop giggling over the inclusion of a recipe called “Bean Hole Beans”. *hee hee* You can learn how to make Taco Beans, what to do with leftover baked beans, and why congress is full o’ beans. There are recipes in here for party dips, bean salads and after-school snacks, though the “hint” that tells you to mix beans with raisins punches me square in the gag reflex.
This pamphlet is a 37 page powerhouse full of bean lore and succotash, culminating in what can only be the most lucrative of all the gifts beans can bestow upon humankind. (wait for it…wait for it…)
Toot toot a root toot tooooo!
A bean queen “travels in behalf of beans and reigns throughout the year”. That, friends, is a direct quote, and would be something to aspire to indeed. And really, it’s best that produce has a liege lord that rhymes. Bean Queen. Cuke Duke. Or at least is pithy, like Pump-King.
I have come to the end of my charming little slice of 1963-era bean cookery, and it was absolutely worth all 100 pennies I spent on it in MegaAwesomeFleaMarket. And for you food academics, remember. I have this baby entirely scanned, not just the comedic bits. You know were to find me. I’ll be right here, lost in the splendor of a home-grown Michigan bean.