“How about some soup?” Leon suggests, hugging me from behind me as I stand mournfully staring out into the dreary June rain.
“You know,” he says in a low seductive tone. “Beans.”
I can feel his breath against my neck.
“Something nice,” he kisses my ear, “and farty.”
With that, he gives my rear a slap and pulls on his coat to work outside.
Hell, I can do farty with the best of them.
My version of minestrone is nothing that Mario Batali or Lidia Bastianich would recognize as coming from Old Europe but it does induce a terrifying bout of flatulence that my sons, blessed as they are with drumbeat digestion, have feared since early childhood.
“Not the minestrone!” they would wail in rare unity, knowing that they’d soon be stuck in a classroom with the soup stuck inside them.
I used to do beans from scratch, if there’s anything “scratch” about shaking a bag of old legumes to rinse in a colander, throwing out the odd pebble, and boiling the stuff for three hours. I’d dutifully let the pot sit overnight to soften, rinse them again, and add them to the soup. At dinner, nearly 24 hours after the bean brigade had begun, we’d sit around the table spooning up soup, each of us discreetly setting the still-hard things aside.
And then I remembered about cans.
We had cans when I was a kid. Corn came in them, as did pitted black olives, green beans, that ghastly white asparagus, and peas-oh-yes-peas.
Now I keep canned Italian tomatoes in my pantry, but I have an unfounded prejudice against canned American tomatoes. If they’re Italian, Mario and Lidia might use them; if American, Paula Deen might. With Cool Whip.
But when things must be farty, they must contain beans, and already softened canned beans are my closest friends when it comes to minestrone.
So while Leon digs the yard outside in the unseasonable rain, I go to the market and collect cans. Once home, I keep on my own coat to strip early squash, clip kale, and grab heavily soaked herbs from the growing box. Inside, I stack Italian tomatoes and white cannellini beans. They stack so nicely.
There are some kitchen utensils that contain memory. The ancient electric mixer I inherited from a mother-in-law two marriages ago is one. It sticks in one position only, throws off blue sparks, and has the thrilling ability to deliver unexpected electric shocks. But it makes me think of Magda, a hardy Lithuanian who escaped the Russians, took refuge with the Germans, and landed in Baltimore, where she promptly learned Polish, not English, from the ladies in the sweatshop where she sewed for a living.
The manual can opener is another.
Not the manual can opener my mother used to extract that awful white asparagus from its tin, gummed black as it was around the blade with the residue of wet cat food gunk and the oil from a thousand tuna fish sandwiches, but a new one that never has touched cat food or tuna, grabs easily in the hand, and opens cans like opening cans is what it’s supposed to do. I now own this ordinary miracle.
After all the brushing and washing and chopping and sautéing that goes into making a New World minestrone, there is the ritual Opening of the Cans. I marvel at how easily my non-gunked opener works the rim, I delight in how I no longer must risk a cut hand when grabbing the lid, and I actually stand at the sink to better admire the pinkish glow of the tin’s interiors once their contents are gently folded into the soup and they are rinsed for recycling.
Leon comes in the back door shaking water from his hat.
“Soup smells good,” he says, and kisses my cheek.
He peers into the pot. “Mmm, beans,” he smiles.
“Looks nice and farty.”
This essay was originally published on Foot Riot, July 1, 2013.