The lowly pinto bean was the food I was brought up on. We had beans for dinner almost everyday for years. It was the main dish, served in a plate, not a bowl, with the other side dishes circling it as a pilgrim circles a shrine. What I mean by “side dishes” is slices of garden tomatoes, sliced onion (or green onion), and bread. I still remember my brother telling me that one should take a bite of each- beans, onion, tomato, so that all the flavors can be tasted together, and to sop up the thick savory bean juice with the bread. My dad was the main cook in my family. You would think that I would have had enough bean suppers as a kid to make me never want any again, but I still cook beans from scratch once a week. They are not quite as good as my dad’s was, but close. Here’s how to cook the beans:
Rinse, sort, and soak a medium package of dried beans overnight. Make sure the water comes to a couple of inches above the beans. Don’t pay any attention to what the package might say about a quick soak method- it won’t turn out as good. The next day, change out the soak water for fresh water. The level of water should be just above the beans. Don’t use too much water, or the ‘bean juice’ will never thicken properly. Put in a ham bone or chunk of fatty pork- I don’t usually do this because my husband doesn’t like meat in beans. It turns out pretty good without it if I get the seasonings right, but I think it will never be like my dad’s beans unless I add that hambone. Add 1 or 2 teaspoons of salt, and pepper, cumin, and garlic to taste. Cut up an onion and throw in. If you’re not using a ham bone or pork, add a couple tablespoons of oil. Bring to a boil, turn down and simmer about 3 or 4 hours or longer until the beans are very soft- this is very important, as undercooked beans are indigestible. If the juice is thin when you’re ready to serve, mash up some of the beans in it.
In “Christianity: The Origins of a Pagan Religion”, Philippe Walter theorizes that the Pagan traditions of medieval western Europe may have had the name “Carnival” (yes, I’m talking about the Mardi Gras type of stuff that is still practiced all over the world today). He further states that the word carnival most likely does not mean ’to take away meat’, but is derived from the name of the goddess Carna, to whom beans were sacred.