Raymond and I grew up a few years and many miles apart, he in a Franco-American Roman Catholic family in Lowell, Mass., and me here at the very Protestant Manse in Queensborough, Ont. But in many ways his family and mine were (and are) not all that different. For one (very important) thing, there are immensely strong bonds within the family, and huge joy when the siblings and their offspring (and their sisters and their cousins and their aunts – though there are a lot more of all of those among the Roman Catholic Brassards than among the Protestant Sedgwicks) get together.
And for another: wieners and beans.
Probably due in large part to the fact that a third thing the two families had in common was that there was never very much money when we were growing up, wieners and beans were a staple on the lunch and sometimes supper table in both the Brassard household of Raymond’s youth and the Sedgwick household – the Manse – of mine. So recently Raymond and I decided to revisit that delicious favourite of our past.
And guess what we discovered? That there are variations on the wieners-and-beans theme!
In the Sedgwick household the wieners were cut up into bite-size pieces while cold and warmed up directly in, and with, the beans. The Brassards, by contrast, put the wieners in boiling water first and then cut them up and added them to the beans. Such culinary complexity!
But anyway, Raymond and I tried it both ways. And both ways were as good as in our childhood.
Another difference was that the Sedgwicks used canned grocery-store beans – Libby’s Deep-Browned was the preferred kind, as I recall, a brand long gone in Canada – while the Brassards often bought a locally made brand called Rochette’s, which were sold already warm (in big pots) at a shop called Martin’s Variety, where one could (and still can today) ladle out the desired amount into a plastic container and take them home ready to eat. (Rochette’s Beans are very much a Lowell specialty – and this in a region where they take their beans seriously, Lowell being close to the home of Boston Baked Beans. I confess I am not totally crazy about them, because they are not deep-browned like Libby’s were. Which translates into: they are not as sweet.)
But wait! There is one more variation on wieners and beans, and this one is wild because – it doesn’t involve wieners! It turns out that Raymond’s dad (also named Raymond) preferred hamburger to wieners when it came to what to mix with the beans. So in our comprehensive sampling of the bean-themed dishes of our youth, Raymond and I also had that – a first for me, but quite good.
Not as good as wieners and Libby’s Deep-Browned, mind you. But as an excellent way to feed a large, hungry family at very little cost? Right up there.