Monday, March 26, 2018

The day the butter beans blew ~ my column from Sunday's paper

We stopped by to see Jilda’s sister Nell a few weeks ago. During our visit, she told us about her latest kitchen thingamajig. It’s one of those new-fangled digital pressure cookers. When Jilda realized the device was a pressure cooker, she flinched and took a small step backward. My lovely spouse is not a fan of pressure cookers and hasn’t been since the '70s.
Jilda’s mother Ruby cooked every day. Most days her stove baked, boiled, roasted, and fried stuff. But
now and then she’d remove the pressure cooker from the bottom shelf of her cabinet, wash it out, and press it into service. She cooked roasts, chicken, poke salad, and beans.
You could tell she was using the pressure cooker in the kitchen when you walked through her front door. The cooker had a float valve on top that rattled to the rhythm of Southern food at its finest. At the time, I’d never had anything that tasted better than the stuff coming from that spewing cook-horse. 
When Jilda and I married, Ruby and Sharky bought us a pressure cooker as a housewarming gift. We were ecstatic. Like her mom, Jilda cooked every day. On occasions when she used it, the pressure cooker took meals to the next level.
For a while, I had to work second shift at MaBell. One Friday I knocked off a half day. After calling Jilda, I headed home from Hoover. The drive takes about an hour. Jilda decided to surprise me by cooking butter beans and hot-buttered cornbread. She knew it was one of my favorite meals.
She scooted a kitchen chair over and removed the pressure cooker off the top of the fridge. On the counter by the stove, she’d laid out a bag of beans and a slab of bacon big enough to cause arterial distress in heart patients. 
She measured the beans and water as she mixed everything in the cooker. She preheated the oven and got to work mixing up cornmeal and her other secret ingredients for the cornbread. 
While the meal was in cooking, she went to the bathroom to change out of her work clothes. Suddenly she heard an alarming sound from the kitchen. It wasn’t an explosion but a whooshing WHUMP sound. She raced half naked to the kitchen to find a hole the size of your thumb in the ceiling. Butter beans were dripping off the ceiling, light fixtures, and our German Shepard Duke. He was always an asset when it came to cleaning up messes like that in the kitchen.
We’re not sure if it was the salt she’d added or maybe there was too much water, but the cooker built up too much pressure. All the contents of the cooker shot out through the pressure release valve. We were still finding beans in that kitchen until we sold that house trailer. 
After that butter bean episode, Jilda tossed the lid to the pressure cooker in the garbage. She would have tossed the little rattling valve thingy too, but we never found it. That event made her skittish of pressure cookers.
This past weekend, I decided to dance with the devil. Walmart had one of those new digital pressure cookers so I bought one for her upcoming birthday. She howled when I put it on the table. “You know those things don’t like me,” she said.  We both laughed remembering the “butter bean disaster” as it’s come to be known in our family lore. 
We unboxed the new cooker, read the instructions, and watched YouTube video. Jilda decided to give it a try. I was thrilled. Within 34 minutes we had a pot of butter beans that were so good they “made me want to slap my mama,” as the old saying goes. The new cooker has an automatic shutdown function that should prevent another culinary calamity. 


  1. My mom used to use one of those. I didn't know then how dangerous they could be, especially my mom could be a little dingy sometimes but bt some miracle we we never had any accident.

  2. I am glad that your gift was a win - for both of you.
    It was a food processor which led to 'raspberry splat' in my mother's kitchen. Benchtop, cupboard, walls, ceiling, floor. There was more mess than there were raspberries.

  3. I remember mom cooking with a pressure cooker. I alsom remember some blown lids and frustration in the kitchern. I never have desired one. They have “Smart Cookers” now which Im assuming thats what you got Jilda. I have been curious how those work. Butter Beans? Well, I do not like those. Mom forced me to eat them once and it was not pretty so I stay away from them now because I can. Haha.


  4. That a great story Rick. I'm thinking of getting a new pressure cooker soon. I used to have a Presto Cooker with that rocking valve you talked about but the seal wore out from use and I used it as a deep fryer for while.
    Hugs, Julia

  5. My mom used to make the very best bean soup I ever tasted in a pressure cooker. I bought one for my self in the days I canned. And used it for cooking too. Beef stew went to the next level when cooked in the pressure cooker. But I always stood guard when it was on the stove. Thankfully no explosions. It went the way of the Salvation Army Thrift store when I downsized and moved a little over a year ago now. Glad they have one that is improved with the with the shut down feature. I'm thinking though that that gift was more for you than it was for Jilda. You got your much loved butter beans.

  6. Family lore is one of the best parts of being in a family. This is a great story. Hopefully the new pressure cooker will keep its hat on.

  7. Imma pressure cooker maniac, Love my pressure cooker. One blew up on my mama in 1951, after daddy fixed the ceiling and she cleaned up, daddy bought her a new one. She only used it for canning. ai have a friend with a story about like yours. But now she lovwes here electric pressure cooker. I have an electric, but have never used it. I gotta try it soon.


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