Thursday, July 3, 2008


Calico Beans & Cornbread

We clipped along lush green potato fields and orderly rows of sugar beets that sprawled as far as the eyes could see. The fragrance of low-growing mint filled the air while serving as a rich border along Interstate 90.

It was a sweltering August day in 1998. Ed and I had left Seattle when the first rooster was crowing, to attend my family reunion in Spokane, Washington.

Ed and I weren’t married yet, but I’d invited him to the reunion because it seemed the perfect opportunity for him to meet many of my relatives. He had expressed his desire for us to get married and I had agreed to marry him, but one question remained, when? I really wanted to give him a resounding “yes!” but I was terrified of taking the plunge.

“Did you know, Dear, that Spokane is a mere 19 miles from Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho? Ed asked me with a slow, exceedingly deliberate wink. “What do you think?”

“And, just what are you hinting at Mr. Briggs?” I replied, holding back a smile and peering at him sideways through my sunglasses. Unlike Washington, which has a 3-day waiting period to get a marriage license, Idaho couples can get married within a matter of hours simply by relinquishing a few drops of blood and walking across the street to a Justice of the Peace.

“Maybe next time we’re in Spokane we’ll make that special trip into Coeur d’ Alene,” I kidded.

He gave me a familiar smile and said, “I’m a patient man.”

We quickly found the park where the reunion was being held, and as we were setting our crock-pot full of Calico Beans on the buffet table, my mom walked over to Ed and gave him a big hug. Beaming, she said, “Welcome to the family, Son!” and sauntered off to join the others. Did she know something we didn’t know?

Ed and I took seats beside my Uncle Jack to enjoy the wonderful bounty of food prepared by food lovin’ family cooks. Jack squinted, giving Ed the once-over as though he was examining the inner workings of a pocket watch. He then chortled approvingly in Ed’s direction, “Congratulations, Son! I heard you two tied the knot in Coeur d’ Alene this morning!”

“Ah, that explains Mom’s ‘welcome to the family’ comment.” Ed said laughing.

Later that same evening, Ed and I were enjoying a leisurely dinner on the outer deck at Clinkendagger Restaurant. A cool mist billowed up from Spokane Falls and a breathtaking backdrop of a flame-colored sunset reflected off the shiny rocks lining the steep riverbanks.

Ed was enjoying the glow of acceptance my family had showed toward him, and the banter surrounding our “quickie” marriage in Coeur d’ Alene demonstrated to me that he was an ideal addition to my fun-loving clan.

After seeing Ed interact with my family, I made the decision as to when we’d be getting married. But, I thought, why not add to the frivolity of the day by continuing the jest with Ed over dinner.

As Ed was savoring his first delectable bite of halibut, I tossed out the first piece of bait. “Did you like the Calico Beans I made for the family reunion today?”

“Yeah, those beans were a hit; I’d like to have some right now to go with this halibut! You’re a terrific cook, Honey. I think everything you make is great!” He took another bite of fish.

I threw out the big one. “Since you like my cooking so much, what do you think of me making the same pot of beans for both our family’s reunions next year and the year after and the year after?”

Ed’s stunned look confirmed that he’d caught my meaning. He stopped eating, and just stared at me. A full minute went by before he resumed eating his fish, but he still didn’t speak.

“What month did you have in mind?” He asked with a curious smile.

“Perhaps May of next year?” I teased.

He raised one eyebrow and countered, “I’d like it to be sooner, how about March?”

Continuing on with my merriment, “Weddings take a lot of planning, but I can pull it together by November…of this year!” I said laughing as I watched Ed beam.

We relished in the moment, knowing that we’d just attended our first of many family reunions together where Calico Beans would always be part of the fare, along with a reminder of our special evening overlooking Spokane Falls.

Family Reunion Calico Beans
1/2 pound bacon, diced, browned and drained
1/2 pound hamburger, crumbled, browned and drained
1 1/2 cup yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon vinegar
1-29 ounce can Pork & Beans, drained
2-15 ounce cans red Kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1-15 ounce can each baby Lima beans, Black-eyed peas and Garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup catsup
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke, optional
8-12 ounces beer, optional

Brown bacon and hamburger in a large skillet, drain in a colander and rinse under hot water to remove excess fat. Coat a 3-quart casserole dish with cooking spray; add cooked bacon and hamburger along with remaining ingredients and stir well. Cover and bake for 1 hour at 350° or simmer in a slow-cooker on Low setting for 8 hours. Serve with hot cornbread (recipe below), if desired.

Yield: 12-16 servings


Applesauce Cornbread
1 1/4 cups coarse yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, slightly beaten
3/4 cup milk
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1-4 ounce can green chilies, roasted and chopped or diced jalapeno peppers to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Sift together cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into mixing bowl. Add egg, milk, applesauce, melted butter and (optional) chilies. Mix by hand for about 2 minutes.

Turn into a buttered 7” x 11” baking pan, or into a well-seasoned cast iron frying pan. Bake for 20 minutes. Allow cornbread to “rest” in the pan for 5 minutes before cutting. Serve warm with butter and Calico Beans. Makes 12 servings