Jerry Nelson: A life full of beans

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
Jerry Nelson

This is the time of year when the weather is freezing, the days are short, and blizzards afflict us with such frequency that every time we hear the forecast we are overwhelmed by a powerful urge to adorn the weather guy’s house with toilet paper.

Except we are too tired to even think of such a thing after shoveling all that snow. Besides, what would be the point? The toilet paper would just blend in with the crystalized precipitation.

Those of us who have lived in the Northland for any length of time know that the only thing a person can do at times like this is to hunker. Pull in your horns. Don’t do anything stupid. Don’t make any overly ambitious plans such as getting to your appointments on time.

Hunkering can be made much more pleasant with soothing things like comfort food. Prior to our most recent blizzard, I purchased all the stuff needed to make Mom’s comforting baked beans.

Mom customarily whipped up her baked beans for summer potluck picnics. Given the dish’s gaseous properties, it made sense to serve them during a season when we spent much of our time outdoors.

Though nothing was ever written down, Jerry Nelson continues to make his Mom's baked beans recipe through memory.

But Mom also made her hearty and nutritious baked beans in the winter. Nothing was ever written down, but I watched Mom often enough to reverse engineer her recipe. Sort of.

Mom would always begin with several pounds of dry, white northern beans. The legumes would be washed, then cooked for approximately a week. This is probably how the nursery rhyme line “peas porridge in the pot nine days old” originated.

While looking for dry beans at the grocery store recently, I stumbled across a humungous jar of precooked beans. It looked as though the jar contained roughly a gallon – more beans than my wife and I could eat in a month – but the time-saving temptation proved too great.

I nestled the precooked beans in a warm pot as the blizzard raged outside our kitchen window. Mom’s baked beans always contained some bacon, so I chopped and fried several slices. A person can include as much bacon as they like, although at some point the dish might go from “beans and bacon” to “bacon and beans.”

A diced sautéed onion was tossed into the primordial stew. The next part is sort of vague. Ketchup was stirred into the beans until they turned pink. Then came a dollop of mustard, a fistful of brown sugar and a small glug of molasses. A dash of liquid smoke rounded things out.

The beauty of this recipe is its flexibility. You could add mild green peppers if you prefer a splash of color or super-hot chilies if you want to transform your intestinal tract into a flamethrower.

This dish is the kind that somehow tastes better when you take it out of the fridge and warm it up the next day. It appears that the beans’ flavor could continue to become fuller and deeper into infinity.

How did this latest batch of beans turn out? Let’s put it this way: The amount of beans that I thought would last us a month disappeared in just a few days.

It’s incumbent upon me as "Man of The House" to scoop snow off the sidewalk and clear the driveway. After being cooped up by a blizzard for two days, I actually looked forward to venturing outdoors.

Going outside in deeply cold weather means putting on enough clothing to make you look like an astronaut preparing for a spacewalk. One of my primary tools for battling the cold is insulated coveralls.

I have a new set of coveralls that hang on a hook upstairs and my old coveralls that hang on a nail in the basement. I wore my old coveralls daily in the wintertime until I exited the dairy business 20 years ago. They are tattered and have permanent grease and manure stains, but they’re as comfortable as an old pair of shoes.

I chose to wear the old coveralls despite all of their defects. After all these years they remain familiar and deeply comforting, not unlike a long-lasting marriage.

As I pulled on the old coveralls, I noted with no small amount of satisfaction that they still fit even though they were purchased 30 years ago. They might be a bit snug in the tummy area, but that only made them feel more soothing.

The beans began to do their work as I labored to clear the snow. The melodious tones that are often associated with consuming several helpings of musical fruit echoed across our subzero farmstead.

I bet my wife was glad that I was outside.

If you'd like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at and at booksellers everywhere.