Rendered Fat Content


Unknown, Cauldron (mid-15th century)
" … both my product and my reward."

I've lately been seeing a lot of writing about the downsides of openness and transparency, both long touted as unconditional goods. Nobody really needs to know most of the picky details about any other. I do not, for instance, care to know what you really think about anything. I much prefer polite pseudo conversation to full disclosure confession. I'm fine with the persistent illusion that you're fine, just like you say when I ask you. I'm good if you think me a generally decent fellow, not given to unruly excess or extremist ideologies. You can think whatever you care to think about me as long as you do not expect me to live up to your fantasies about who I am. I have been mistaken for many things in my life. I have likewise been recognized for precisely who and what I am on multiple occasions, each surprises. We seem to so easily slot ourselves into some role or persona that we might not notice when our halos slip sideways a little. We rarely seek to set any record straight. This morning, though, it being the morning of my seventieth birthday, I intend to attempt to take a little public inventory of what I've managed to make of myself, with, of course, The Muse's generous help.

I eat beans for breakfast.
How I go about concocting my breakfast beans might explain everything worth knowing about who and what I've become. My techniques represent decades of learning and unlearning and remain open to revision, indeed, I've never fully settled them. Each attempt at making My Beans amounts to an experiment, a fresh attempt to create an old favorite which has in the truest possible sense never before been created. The result should properly be something easily recognized as both novel and familiar, like a jazz rendition of a favorite old standard.

My beans almost always start with a freezer filled with leftover trimmings, veg butts, chicken carcasses, and other odd, unrecognizable bones. With these, I fill the BIG stock pot then fill it with water nearly to the top. I heat this mess to just south of boiling, a weak simmer, before throwing it into a very slow—300 degree—oven overnight or longer. This stage of bean baking so closely resembles how I write that I find it a shockingly accurate self-portrait. It might be that whatever anybody does is the equivalent of a Kabuki dance self portrait. Something in the ways we move might perfectly represent how we think and how we live, if only we could glimpse our performances. I maintain a stockpile of apparently useless odds and ends, snippets of stories, clever phrases. I keep them frozen and inert until I'm ready to repurpose them into a fresh story, by which I mean one comprised of repurposed bits. My steeping time's lengthy, too, overnight and often longer. I work in components. Notice how I've not yet mentioned beans and I started preparing them more than twelve hours ago?

I make my bean stock over Tuesday night because the garbage gets hauled away on Wednesday morning and my stock-making produces a ton of quickly-spoiling tailings. After twelve hours simmering, the inputs become worthless and must be discarded. The top layer has browned, the onion skins blackened, and the steeping water has assumed a deep reddish-brownish color and smells luscious. I could stop there, solids discarded, and serve the bone broth for supper, but I'm after Thursday's breakfast, which I need to seem substantial. The water needs reduction, so I set it back into the oven then distract myself with something for at least the rest of the morning. Before I go, though, I set my beans to soaking. Some say soak them overnight, but overnight tends to render them too soft, too open. They need a scant few hours, three or four at most, soaked in luke warm baking soda water and salt. By the end of three hours, the beans will be soft as sprouts and finally ready for cooking.

My bean stock, the product of leftovers, then receives a fresh layer of leftovers on top. I insist these days upon always including a duck leg our two into the mix, and a hunk of ham hock or perhaps some smoked pork neck bones. Sausage is never beyond consideration, for I hold a deep appreciation for the French and their cassoulet, which represents perhaps the highest form of bean reduction. This week, leftover slow-braised pork cheeks and their soffrito find their way into the pot. I almost always forget to salt the business which I throw back into the slow oven for a few more hours of cooking.

By the time I call supper ready, I fear I might have overdone the production. By then, I might have added a bunch of stale leftover bread to the pot, which helps produce a pleasantly glutinous sauce, and fresh tomato and onion, both still crunchy in contrast to the beans, which have by then started turning saucy. It's layers upon layers of patience in that pot and even more patience before it's served at breakfast. The best beans have cooled their heels overnight. These I rewarm, by long tradition, in a double boiler, which I barely simmer for the time it takes me to concoct that morning's story, an hour or two or three. I find it enormously satisfying to find a simmering pot of beans waiting for me after I've finished writing. Breakfast then seems like a well-earned supper, and I'm usually good to go until a late supper. Beans for breakfast, beans for tea, make me a musical S.O.B.

So, what have I disclosed about myself by recounting my bean preparation ritual? My original content is comprised of 100% repurposed stuff, rarely an original thought. It never comes out the same way, not even once, for each batch amounts to an experiment, not a resurrection. I take two days to create what others might spend an hour producing. I'm probably not a speed demon. The bulk of my practice amounts to patient acceptance. Beans for breakfast can't be rushed. Beans for breakfast are always well worth the wait. Look, I'm no genius in the kitchen or on a page. I counsel nobody to attempt to emulate my techniques, my practice. At my ripe old age, I still sense what I'm doing without knowing for certain. I poke sticks into impenetrable darkness every morning, and every damned morning, I return with a story. Beans for breakfast both my product and my reward.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

blog comments powered by Disqus

Made in RapidWeaver