by Buck Reed

Bean Nation

I may have said this before, but that never stopped me from saying something twice: All traditional cuisine is not national, but instead, it is regional. That is to say,  crêpes might be French, but that doesn’t mean all the people of France eat their crêpes the same way. So, if I were to ask what food describes the United States, most people might say we are a nation of hamburger eaters. Yet, I would say we are a nation of bean eaters. And, given the idea of regional cuisine, the way we prepare and eat our beans is the key to that concept.

Let’s start here in Maryland, where lima beans picked fresh off the vines in summer are the dish of the day, simply prepared with a little water, salt, pepper, and butter. Or, you can add some fresh corn kernels and almost anything else and upgrade it to succotash. To be fair, almost any place that serves succotash will claim it as theirs.

Moving up north, we go to Boston (AKA Beantown), where they cook their small white beans in a syrupy tomato sauce. And, being Boston, there is no consensus on who does it correctly. Also, don’t expect anyone to share their recipe that has been in the family since the Mayflower landed with you.

Down south, we find ourselves in barbeque country, and we find a spicy sweet bean that is satisfying but not really all that complicated. This takes us from the Carolinas and throughout the barbeque-eating region of the country.

Down in Louisiana, red beans and rice is the traditional dinner of Wednesday night. It is eaten on Wednesday because laundry day is on this day, and you can set this to cook in the morning on the stove, unattended, while you go about your wash day. This dish is cooked in a thick tomato sauce, with a spicy Cajun flare and smokey Andouille sausage, and is served on white rice.

In California, you may consider the beans processed into tofu might be the regional dish, but let’s consider bean cakes instead. These are cooked beans that are mixed with almost anything that will add a fresh flavor and formed into cakes and pan-fried. Personally, I like them on a sandwich with…what else, bean sprouts. A perfect lunch for the surfing safari.

If you are looking for a variety of beans, then go to Nebraska. They are number one in the nation for Great Northern Beans and third overall for the rest of the varieties. They make a bean salad they call, Cowboy Caviar.

Finally, we have Texas, where the trail is forged on chili beans. These are flavored with the peppers found on the trail and tomatoes. If you don’t mind the cultural appropriation, they call this dish Mexican Strawberries.

If you can grasp the idea behind these thoughts, then it is easy to see how cuisines are developed. Yes, spaghetti is an Italian pasta, but as you move around from region to region, you will find it is the same noodle, yet served differently throughout the country.

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