My grandfather used to taunt my grandmother with this song: The old gray mare just ain’t what she used to be, ain’t what she used to be, ain’t what she used to be. This was extra insulting because my grandmother was known for her beauty and she knew she was known for her beauty, so the last thing she ever thought of herself as was an old grey mare.
He’d launch into it when she was a having a grumpy moment, so of course the effect was that it made her even grumpier, but he didn’t care. He’d laugh and keep singing, maintaining a wide berth from her feistiness and enjoying the buffer protection of grandchildren in the room. This all took place in their dining room or the kitchen, where he was busy cooking up something delicious (roast beef! Devil’s Food Cake!). On the weekdays, my grandmother’s housekeeper, Reen, would make the meals, but on the weekends, it was Granddaddy’s job.
My sister and I relished the weekends when we stayed with them, because he let us make up all sorts of concoctions that were banished from our lean, no-frills Pritikin house. Thrilled to escape disgusting, dreadful health food items like carob, we made chocolate soup by assiduously stirring vanilla ice cream with gobs of Hershey’s syrup drizzled into it, thick, glossy ribbons from the can.
In the morning, the smell of bacon filled their kitchen. That was another forbidden fruit for us. My father dismissed it with a derisive look that, without using words,
said, “Bacon! Instant heart attack. Anyone who eats bacon is a fool.”
There is bacon, and there is bacon, and one morning, I discovered the secret ingredient: applewood. There are many types of wood smoke, but the applewood flavor zapped me back like a time machine to my grandparents’ bright yellow kitchen, 40 years ago, where bacon sizzled in the pan while my grandfather sang his heart out with me by his side, waiting for the crispiest slice.
Speaking of time travel, in college, I worked as a hostess at Nashville’s Granite Falls restaurant. Before the dinner rush, I would order a bowl of black bean soup. I’m still trying to recreate it, but up until now, every recipe has either had too much cumin or something else wrong with it.
But I finally found a recipe that captures the smooth heartiness of Granite Fall’s black bean soup, which I adapted from Dave Lieberman’s recipe on Food Network. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/dave-lieberman/black-bean-soup-recipe.html
My father would be horrified to see that this recipe for black bean soup calls for an entire package of bacon. The good news is, this simple bowl of soup can serve as an entire meal, and no one can fight over the bacon bits, because they get pureed into the soup. Or, if that’s TOO MUCH, reserve the bacon bits and allow the pork lovers in the family to use on top of their own bowls of soup. In either case, the crème fraîche is essential.
Black Bean Soup
10 oz. bacon
4 15 oz. cans black beans, drained not rinsed
2 ½ c. (around 2) chopped onions
6 garlic cloves, minced or ground into paste
3 c. chicken broth
12 oz. tomato puree (can use the bottled kind)
2 t. Worcestershire sauce
1 T. chili powder
1 bunch cilantro
Cook the bacon in a large skillet and remove to drain on paper towels. Roughly chop the bacon. Drain the majority of the bacon grease, leaving just enough to sautee the chopped onions. Add the onions and cook on low heat for 10-15 minutes until they are golden, stirring to keep them from burning. Reduce heat to low, add the garlic and cook until it is fragrant. Deglaze skillet with chicken broth.
Transfer this mixture to a soup pot and add the tomato puree, Worcestershire, chili powder and beans. Cook for 10 minutes and then add the cilantro and the bacon. Puree in a blender.
Garnish with green onions and scallions.