(guest blogged by Mike)
I don't think my mom signed up for it. She was the daughter of reserved Lutheran Germans, but somehow ended married into a family of raucous Irish Catholics, and west side Irish to boot.
One of four girls, she brought three large boys into the world. Insofar as a child of the depression could have delicate sensibilities, she had them. Insofar as children of the post-war middle class baby boom could be a natural disaster going someplace to happen, my brothers and I were that.
Whenever Breda asks about my mom, my answers are no doubt unsatisfying - in truth after all this time my memories of her have faded to a kind of soft haze of good humor, good stories and good food.
The last of course piqued the interest of my dear bride (no mean cook herself). What was my favorite? What did she do best? What did she like?
Again, I could not help but to disappoint. Growing up our dinners were the usual fare: pastas, potatoes, pot roasts, and meat loafs, but all prepared by someone who knew what they were about in the kitchen, and thus delicious.
Delicious, but not unique. In fact I would stack Breda's versions of the above against anyone's, and she would come out the winner. I am a lucky man.
Wasn't there any special dish that I remembered? Okay, there is one, but it's a little embarrassing - it's not fancy, it might not even rate as commonplace - kind of a mix of sausage and canned beans that was for us only - serving it to company would not even be considered. But boy, was it tasty. Whenever the grocery store expedition returned with the ingredients for bean casserole, my brothers and I would dance around like some species of giant hobbit anticipating a feast.
Recipe? I didn't think there was one - it started life a a side dish at one of the family gatherings, and my mom, ever practical, asked the appropriate aunt what was in it, figuring it could be expanded to fill the near bottomless bellies of her hungry brood.
Years later, when I lived alone, I tried to recreate it from memory. How hard could it be - some beans, some sausage, some other stuff - something awful. I'm not a master chef, but rarely do my attempts go directly from stove to waste basket. This one did.
Sadly, I informed Breda that the recipe was lost to time.
My wife is not so easily deterred, she is not known as "She Who Finds Things Out" for nothing. My brothers were enlisted to find mom's cook books, but this is not the sort of thing that ever appeared in Betty Crocker or Julia Child, so it didn't look good for this particular bit of culinary archaeology.
Then one day, not long ago while sitting around Breda's mom's table, digesting one of her delicious meals (did I mention I am a lucky man?), my younger brother handed Breda a green vinyl, loose-leaf notebook.
"I found this on one of our bookshelves; it was mom's recipes. Do you want it?"
You might of thought he offered he the map to the Lost Dutchman mine for the speed of the grab she made. And yes, there was a recipe for...
Five Bean Casserole.
1 lb. Bob Evans hot sausage
2 med. onions, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 can each (drained):
1 16 oz. can pork and beans
1 6 oz. can tomato sauce
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. chili powder
2 Tbsp. prepared mustard
4-6 slices of bacon
Brown sausage, remove from pan. In drippings saute onions and celery. Mix in rest of ingredients, spread tomato paste on top and top with bacon.
Bake in large covered dutch oven @ 350 for one hour.
Memories fade, photos get lost, and the universe is relentless in pushing the past aside to make way for the future, but the taste on the tongue remembers.
P.S. it says one cup of brown sugar. I used about three quarters, and it was still very sweet - next time, I'll cut it to half a cup.