Taking Inventory: Butter Beans

Breaking out the crockpot since cold weather is here. I pulled out my tattered Better Homes and Gardens Crockery Cookbook and went to work picking out two recipes for next week. I turned to the worn beef pages and jotted ingredients for the beef stroganoff that makes my mouth water when I read “sherry.” Then I thought I needed something new and turned to poultry. I can’t fathom chicken in the crock pot, but there was an interesting smoked turkey sausage and beans. Beans! Four different kinds of beans. I probably have that many on the storage shelf in the basement waiting for a purpose in life. In particular the one I see every time I do laundry: butter beans. No idea how butter beans joined the inventory. I don’t even know what a butter bean is. But I’m happy that I can clean out the beans! I scoop all four cans up. Black beans, small white beans that I’ll substitute for great northern, small red beans that I’ll substitute for red kidney beans. And the “Lady Lee” butter beans. Not wanting to shop more than once this week, I confirm that the beans are good before heading to the grocery store. Really, what can go wrong with a bean? I dusted the layers off the butter beans. Many layers. Really… many, many layers. I flipped over the can and read “July” – this is good! But wait… 1997. July 1997.

I add butter beans to my grocery list, and while in the store, I flip the can over to make sure it’s still in date. 2015. This can of beans will last five more years. So if my math is correct, the old can of beans may have quite possibly been purchased in 1992 if all beans have a five-year shelf life.

This made me nostalgic over the old can that I unceremoniously chucked into the garbage hours before. I had carried that 15 ½ oz. can of butter beans with me for all of my married life: 18 years. Soon after Bill and I were married, I purchased my crockpot cookbook. Then I went to work stocking my cupboards so I could make just about anything at a moments notice with Iowa meat from the freezer, a few spices, and even perhaps liquid smoke or – butter beans. Was it the smoked turkey and sausage recipe that prompted me to buy these butter beans in 1992?

Not only did it twirl along in the lazy Susan of our first house for 13 years, we paid for it to be moved in a semi-truck to a Chicago suburb where it sat with the bean family in the back of a tiny pantry. After a few years there, in 2005 we paid for it AGAIN to be moved 1,600 miles in another semi-truck across the Mississippi River and through Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts. Once here, it sadly sat on a dark shelf in the basement for five more years, until its demise.

My new can of beans cost $1.19. My old can of beans was worth a lot more. A whole lot more.