It’s the time of year when the barbecue pit is filled with chicken, ribs and burgers, and if you have a crowd to feed, you need the perfect dish to complement the assortment of grilled meats.
What could be better than a big pot of beans?
Beans have been a mainstay for many generations at our family cookouts. My mother, a self-taught gourmet, never settled for beans right out of the can. She always insisted on doctoring things up, which is how she happened to create a dish that became a classic in the Bonner family.
It happened when I was a teenager and our family took a weeklong horseback excursion through the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. This was no dude ranch vacation with hot tubs and clean sheets.
We packed our own mules and rode from base camp to base camp each day, crossing over the mountains to the next valley. At night, we set up camp and cooked our meals over an open fire, with help from two local cowboys and a cook accompanying us.
On the first night, our cook started preparing the evening meal while the rest of us sat around the campfire talking about the day’s ride like Ben Cartwright and the gang in “Bonanza.”
My mother drifted off into the kitchen tent to inquire about the evening menu, which the cook informed her would consist of hamburgers and pork and beans. Much to her dismay, she noticed he was preparing the beans straight out of the can - and cold.
When she objected, he told her he didn’t have time to worry about the beans, as all his efforts were going toward the burgers. Refusing to accept mediocre beans, my mother stepped in and took over the kitchen, using what limited provisions were available to turn canned beans into the proverbial cowboy beans.
Our riding crew was so impressed they nearly sent the poor cook packing - and my mother became the cookout consultant for the rest of the trip.
Her recipe, which I share with you today, will keep you coming back for more. So if you are looking to add flair to your beans for the Fourth of July barbecue, try my mother’s Cowboy Beans. Good luck and bon appétit, pilgrims.