Barbara Crooker’s “Fifteen Bean Soup” with “Saltines”

“Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re fools when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more fools not to take delight in it while we have it.” ~ W. Somerset Maugham/epigraph from Some Glad Morning

 

There’s nothing more restorative on a chilly winter’s day than a spot of Yorkshire Gold and reading the luminous poems in Barbara Crooker’s latest book, Some Glad Morning (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019).

True to W. Somerset Maugham’s quote, Barbara’s ninth collection inspires us to take joy in everyday pleasures, hold fast to fleeting moments, and cherish the here and now.

Whether she is exalting in an explosion of spring flowers, mourning the loss of a friend, awestruck by an unexpected murmuration, ruminating on a Matisse painting, or celebrating food, glorious food (martinis, BLTs, cream puffs, summer peaches, fried eggs!), she is wholly present with verses that read like lyrical prayers, inviting us to a space of hope and light.

Over and over, she says, life is transient, ever-changing. Though loss, grief, and an acute awareness of mortality may be constant companions, these are the very things that make what we do have even more precious. We will always have the power to create our own realities.

Let the terrible politicians practice/their terrible politics.
At my kitchen table, all will be fed. I turn
the radio to a classical station, maybe Vivaldi.
All we have are these moments: the golden trees,
the industrious bees, the falling light. Darkness
will not overtake us.

Speaking of food, glorious food, it’s time for soup and crackers. In these two poems, Barbara serves up delectable portions of memory, nostalgia, metaphor, slurp-worthy detail, and earnest praise. Put on your bibs and enjoy!

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SALTINES

Something I associate with childhood illness,
stale coca-cola or ginger ale. A crisp white
flatness, a brisk nip of salt. Endless television
in a household that usually rationed it.
Or, on better days, crackers meant to be broken
into confetti, decorating the warm bath
of tomato soup, while the snow poured down
in shattered flakes. How little we knew
about what was ahead, life’s little joys
and sorrows, packaged in cellophane, waiting.
But here was comfort, white and predictable,
every square identical, wrapped up tight,
slotted into the blue and white box. My mother,
at the stove, stirring. The dark waiting outside,
and the snow falling.

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FIFTEEN BEAN SOUP

I want to thank this pot for its art
of containment, the stove for its gentle
heat. Thank you to the beans, all fifteen
of you, for your transformation from stony
pebbles into nuggets of deliciousness, regaining
your original forms: large & small limas, lentils,
navy beans, pintos, yellow-eyed beans, red & white
kidneys, black beans, garbanzos, cranberry beans,
small white & pink beans, green & yellow split peas.
And thank you to the onions, for your bite and snap;
tomatoes, chili powder, garlic, lemon juice — what
you add is undetectable, but if you’re omitted,
all is lost. A word of applause, gnarly ham hocks,
for coming apart in the bubble and boil,
for lending your parts for the good of the whole.
And thank you, thank you, stoneware bowls —
without your help, this dinner wouldn’t be possible.
Have I forgotten anyone? The farmer who sowed
the crops, the rancher who raised the pigs, the grocery
store that carried their wares. Finally — and yes, I hear
the orchestra music, know my time is coming to a close —
let me thank the housewife, lost in history, who figured
out this recipe, the proportions, who added in the harmony,
the way the notes combined, the blend, the music, the mastery.

*

 

Barbara: Re. “Fifteen Bean Soup,” I really don’t remember when I started to cook it, just that I was drawn to these cool packets of 15 beans in the grocery store, and my family loves it.  It’s similar to ham and bean soup, but with these different varieties, which I supplement with dried beans from the garden (largely lima beans plus the dried seed pods from Blue Lake and Roma green beans where I failed to pick them (or rather, they hid among the leaves) and so when I found them, they were too pithy to cook as a green vegetable.  However, the seeds inside dried nicely, and now can be added to the soup (after soaking).  You could make the recipe from the poem, but the poem is also intended as a praise poem for other homely, often neglected things in this life.

I’m all for praising soup, and love “the blend, the music, the mastery.” We are all guilty of taking ordinary things for granted, and this poem nicely touts the sacred in the everyday. No soup is too homely for my liking. 🙂

 

 

Don’t you love “the warm bath of tomato soup” in the first poem? Such a comforting memory, with longing for a simpler, more innocent time.

Of course we had to try making our own Fifteen Bean Soup, and while it was an easy recipe, there was no rushing it. Soaking the dried beans overnight and then combining everything in the crockpot to cook for 6 hours was a good exercise in patience. Here’s to slow cooking in an age of “instant” everything! A good soup, after all, needs time to “bubble and boil,” to allow flavors to gently intermingle. We enjoyed it with a side of cornbread. Yum!

 

 

You can find the recipe at the Hurst Beans website. Although you don’t have to soak the beans beforehand, it’s worth the extra step to help eliminate some of those gassy sugars. 🙂

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SOME GLAD MORNING: Poems
by Barbara Crooker
published by University of Pittsburgh Press, November 2019
Poetry Collection, 110 pp.

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🎉 BOOK GIVEAWAY WINNERS! 🎈

Today we’re delighted to announce the winners of two recent giveaways here at ye olde blog. Thanks for all the chewy comments – – enjoyed reading them all!

Are you ready?

The winner of a signed copy of HIRO’S HATS by Elisa Kleven is:

🌺 JUDY CORTNER! 🌼

and . . .

The winner of a brand new copy of ON A SNOW-MELTING DAY by Buffy Silverman is:

 

🌻 LIZ STEINGLASS! ☘️

 

🎂 CONGRATULATIONS JUDY AND LIZ!! 🎂

👏👏👏👏👏

*high-fives* *cartwheels* *backflips*

We know you’ll enjoy the books!

 

Thanks again to everyone who entered. 🙂

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The shockingly clever coffee guzzling writer extraordinaire Karen Edmisten is hosting the Roundup. Zip over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week. Happy Leap Year!!

 


Copyright © 2020 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup.  All rights reserved.

28 thoughts on “Barbara Crooker’s “Fifteen Bean Soup” with “Saltines”

    1. It’s amazing how so many of us have similar memories. My sick days usually included canned peaches (the only thing I could stomach) in addition to ginger ale.

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  1. I agree with Laura and want to add how true these lines from the poem are:
    “How little we knew
    about what was ahead, life’s little joys
    and sorrows, packaged in cellophane, waiting.”
    Jama, you encouraged me to make a thick pot of soup today-maybe tomato that will bring me back to my childhood days. Thanks for sharing all the goodness in a rich blog post today.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Good to hear you’re making soup, Carol! It’s probably the best comfort food, don’t you think? Yes, the poem reminded me of those innocent days — eating those crackers, sipping my soup, with no idea of what the future would bring. Sigh.

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  2. Indeed, we need to “delight in it while we have it!” I, too, was transported right back to my folks’ house (the one I just spent 2 years cleaning out!), with little sick me napping in my father’s giant recliner – flat ginger ale and saltines by my side – not entirely happy I was missing school. And Hurst’s beans are everywhere up here, so I immediately connected with that, too! Thanks for the memories, Jama.

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    1. Two years is a long time to clean out a house — I do remember your parents seemed to have kept everything (lucky for you with all your early writings, especially).

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  3. Thank you for serving up such a delicious post. Those saltines took me right back to my childhood–tomato soup and unlimited tv on sick days and all. That fifteen bean soup looks amazing, but I’d have to eat it all myself since the rest of my family turns up their noses at beans.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmmm, beans are so healthy, too — but I can understand not liking them. The thing about unlimited TV is that when you’re not feeling that great, you can’t fully enjoy what you’re watching. I remember watching game shows and some soap operas.

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  4. My mother used to make huge pots of soup for our family restaurant and now I love making soup. I always think of her and all the things she did for me when I was home from school sick, like the coke syrup she bought at the store down the street. Now I feel like making soup!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, a family restaurant — that’s exciting. I always marveled at restaurants with their huge pots and pans. I can’t imagine cooking in such large quantities (same with bakery stuff).

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  5. Yes, I have some of the ’15 bean soup’ waiting in my freezer. Barbara Crooker knows all, doesn’t she? Her poems nestle in our lives as if she’s actually been with us! I see you like that “bubble and boil”, too, Jama. Thanks for your sweetest poet!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a coincidence that you have some bean soup in the freezer (we do too)! Yes, Barbara knows all — she’s so spot on with her poems — that’s why she’s one of my favorites.

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  6. Oh, I love that — the orchestra music swelling as if it’s the end of a speech at The Academy Awards — too cute. Beans are THE BOMB at all times, and while I’d perhaps forgo the ham hocks, I’m here for the slow cookery and the corn bread!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s a visual feast here, Jama. Gorgeous! Thanks for this intro to Barbara Crooker. Most delightful. The saltine poem reminds me of the lines from the Music Man: “The Uneeda biscuit in the airtight sanitary package makes the cracker barrel obsolete… obsolete!” And did you know that Nabisco was first the National Biscuit Company?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for that Music Man line — wonderful (it’s one of my DH’s favorite films). I did know that about Nabisco. It’s an American institution, isn’t it? 🙂

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  8. This is such a full bodied line, ““the warm bath of tomato soup.” And what perfect timing for this soup filled post Jama, end of February and blustery cold in many parts, it is here… Nothing like a hot soup to warm you up–it’s marvelous. One of my critique buddies this week made us Root Vegetable Bisque, from her cookbook “The Art of Great Cooking with your Instant Pot.” It was so scrumptious I couldn’t stop telling her that. Your 15 bean soup and cornbread loos delicious too! Thanks for this post and Barbara Crooker’s soul filling poems!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh, the memories … saltines and Coke when we were sick, then delicious soup when all was well. I love Barbara Crooker so very much. And I hold her words dear: “Darkness will not overtake us.”

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Jama, you capture in this post what I love so much about Barbara Crooker’s poetry—bringing loving attention to the everyday, the here and now, and cherishing the importance of even the most “saltine” moment. Thank you, as always, for inviting me to your table.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I guess a lot of us had saltines when we were sick as kids! I love both poems. Bean soup is best (to me) with ham hocks. I would like to like vegetarian versions, but oh, it’s hard.

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