Salt’n the Beans

Mexican strawberries! That’s one of many pseudonyms for pinto beans. They are one of the staples of the chuckwagon cook’s menu. Many stories and poems have been concerned with the “lowly free-holy.” It has been said by Stella Hughes, the famous Arizona chuck wagon cook, that “More railroads were built, more cattle drives made, more round ups held, more expeditions carried out successfully, and more honest-to-gawd hard work done by bean eaters than any other kind.”

As a food the bean is one of the finest sources of soluble fiber, you know, the stuff that takes the cholesterol out of your bloodstream and makes your heart healthy! They are inexpensive, keep forever, (nearly) are easy to carry, easy to cook, and are also a fine source of protein, good carbs, and low in fat.

In a cow camp there was always a pot of pintos soaking, another simmering, and one serving. The seasoning is usually a piece of fat back, sow belly, salt pork, ham hock, or bacon. If beans are salted, it’s at the very last just before serving, because salt makes them tough if it’s added too early.  We often add onions, chilies, chili powder, oregano, or comino. But often the less you do to them the more their good bean flavor comes through.

Once at a cow camp there was no cook, so the cowboys had to take turns cooking. Whoever complained about the food was designated as the next cook. Well, it seems there was this pot of beans simmering on the fire. The designated “pot-slinger” tasted of them and thought they needed more salt, so he added a dose. In a little while another “puncher” rode in from the herd work a little early, and was asked to taste  the beans. He did, and thought they needed more salt. After a while several hands were in camp, including one who knew the “belly-cheater” never used enough salt, not knowing that one of his comrades had already added salt. So he dumped in a pretty good fist full. Finally the meal was served, and the last cowboy to come in tasted his plate of beans. When he loudly proclaimed

“My gawd, them beanies is SALTY!”

everybody looked up and then looked at each other, knowing that he was about to become the next cook. He saw the looks and quickly added

“and that’s just the way I like them!“

Remember you heard it here first.

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