Can you see how much fun we all had back in July of this year, getting in the kitchen with my friend Pableaux Johnson for his Red Beans Road Show, Crook’s Corner Edition? My friend Kate Medley took this in the gloriously flower-filled herbaceous, and hubcap-blessed dooryard of Crook’s, on the corner where Chapel Hill turns into Carrboro and everybody always has a big ol’ time. We all love Pableaux and were so glad to have him bring the RBR to town, that we came in to help him amplify the standard on-going home-based gathering he hosts regularly in New Orleans, so that dozens and dozens of people could enjoy the deliciousness, company and fun. (Left to right: Gene Hamer; Sebastien; Chef Bill Smith; Dean McCord; Sheri Castle; yours truly, and King of the RBR himself, Pableaux Johnson.
Here’s Pableaux in his home kitchen, cooking up a pot of red beans on a Monday evening. For details on Pableaux’s November Red Beans Road Shows in NYC (Manhattan Mon 11/14 and Brooklyn Tues 11/15) scroll to the end of this post and look for the links. Pro-tip: Do It Now. RBRS’s Sell OUT!
Here’s my snapshot of the trunk of Pableaux’s vehicle when he rolled into Chapel Hill this summer for his Red Beans Road Show. That is two count-’em TWO gigantic sacks of Camellia Red Beans, the key to traditional Louisiana-style red beans and rice. There’s also Steen’s pure cane syrup for anointing the cornbread, and gigantic sacks of cornmeal for that cornbread, skillets, and more.
By the time I arrived to be helpful, Pableaux had this gigantic pot on the stove, filled with bubbling creamy spiced-up, sausage-studded red beans, well on their way to being dinner for many many many people that very evening. I could not see into the pot without going on tippy-toes, but it was worth the effort.
These gorgeous rounds of cornbread had just come out of the oven, and Pableaux was mixing up an even bigger batch of cornmeal buttermilk batter to bake in a huge rectangular cast iron baking pan, which was heating up on the top of the stove.
I got started peeling the hard boiled eggs for deviled eggs, and my friend Sheri Castle soon arrived to get the deviled egg filling mixed up. With chopped red onion, celery, jalapenos, and spices in the golden filling, the deviled eggs were divine, as was the serving plate Chef Bill Smith pulled out to hold them.
Meanwhile, my friend Dean McCord and I got moving on tomato sandwiches, made with spectacularly juicy and delicious fresh ripe tomatoes from Bill Smith’s friend’s garden.
Pableaux tended the rice and the beans, while our friend Chef Bill Smith was working on the banana pudding, making sublimely luxurious custard by the potful. Dean McCord moved from ‘mater sandwich making to meringue patrol. It looked like this in the pans:
Right about the time the banana puddings were lined up on the countertops, we scooted out the kitchen door for the above photograph. Then we ran back in for Showtime, because the guests were arriving and the happy sounds were starting to brighten the till-then quiet, art-filled rooms of Crook’s.
The place filled up, the deviled eggs and tomato sandwiches disappeared, and the people found places at the tables for their supper of red beans and rice, cornbread with butter and pure cane syrup, banana pudding and the pleasures of each other’s company. It was grand and we all had the very best time.
I have two takeaways for you here. First, if you are able to get yourself to an edition of Pableaux’s Red Beans Road Show, do it! Links at the end of this post for the next ones coming up. Follow him on Twitter and the RBRS website for the scoop. Get that ticket and go meet, greet, and gather with good people in a fun, tasty and wonderful way. Second, take a cue from Pableaux and start opening your kitchen to good people on a regular basis.
For him, it’s a Monday night tradition when he’s in town, based on the longstanding New Orleans tradition of serving red beans and rice on Monday. This goes back to times when Monday was washday, a physical challenge of washpots, wood-fired hot water, scrubbing, and clotheslines. It was an hours-and-hours long ordeal of work done by hand. People still needed to eat, so putting a pot of beans on the back burner to simmer all day and bloom with flavor by evening meant that everybody could look forward to a hearty, memorable, satisfying supper at days’ end.
I have been blessed to attend Pableaux’s red beans gatherings three times, and I look forward to my next one with joy and gratitude. I’ve also started hosting some gatherings at my house in the last few months, after Pableaux’s feast made me realize that I have gotten away from this practice over the last few years. We used to love having company, but in the last few years, I got distracted by work, and feeling I had Too Many Things to Do. Having stopped hosting for a long spell, I felt embarrassed at the messy state of my home. I used to just do it: Clean up what we could and let the rest go, focusing on food and friends.
Instead I decided to Wait Until I Got Organized and Start My Better Life. This meant no parties, because that day keeps on not coming. It never will, and I’ve decided the thing to do is follow a saying I have taped up on the kitchen cabinet: Start where you are; Use what you have; Do what you can.
Inspired by Pableaux, we just did it. Party time! Our house is still a big ol’ junky cluttered mess, but we’ve got a big table, enough chairs, and a stove and a deck out back and plates and cups to go around. Now we are back in the Come On Over! game, and it has been a blessing.
We need to do this for each other, people, and a big pot of red beans, or whatever kind of simple, satisfying, go-to, can-do dish works for you, can anchor the gathering. Let’s do this, take turns, bring a dish, talk, laugh, eat, drink, and come together.
I asked Pableaux about timing, and he said that the deal is to make the red beans first so that they can simmer, and then the rice so it’s ready when you are. Then he mixes up the dry ingredients for the cornbread and waits for a Cornbread Quorum. When more than half the invited guests are in the house, that’s time to heat the oil, stir the buttermilk and eggs into the cornmeal mixture, and start the cornbread. This works like science magic. Guests, hot cornbread, spectacular red beans over steaming rice — For starters like deviled eggs or sides like salad or dessert, see what your guests can bring along to keep your job simple.
If you have any go-to dishes that are like Pableaux’s red beans and rice as an on-going gathering centerpiece, let me know! I’d love to share them. Let’s encourage each other to connect around the table, and figure out workarounds for whatever’s in the way. We can handle the details and coach each other on how to keep it do-able and manageable.
Let’s trade ideas and get some more of this party started! Leave me a comment about parties you’ve hosted or enjoyed. It’s good for us and good for the world.
Scroll down past the recipes for the scoop on Pableaux’s upcoming NYC Read Beans Road Shows later this month. And then consider these recipes as the seed for your home-cooked connections.
Pableaux’s Red Beans and Rice Recipe
for Pableaux’s Red Beans and Rice recipe, featured on the Southern Foodways Alliance website, along with a little video visit with my friend Pableaux, on the fabulous series A Spoken Dish by my friend Kate Medley, Filmmaker Extraordinaire
Pableaux Johnson’s Cornbread Recipe
Next stop for the Red Beans Road Show is New York, New York!
- 2 cup white cornmeal, or yellow cornmeal
- 4 tablespoons all purpose flour (1/4 cup)img_6590
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (Pableaux uses Clabber Girl)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil (1/4 cup)
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/3 cup buttermilk
- Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Set a 9-inch or 10-inch cast iron skillet on the stove.
- heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Set a 10-inch cast iron skillet on the stove*. (*See Note for how to make this cornbread in a baking pan).
- To prepare the batter, combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Use a whisk or a fork or a big spoon to mix all these dry ingredients together evenly and well. In a medium bowl, combine the eggs and the buttermilk. Stir with a fork to break up the egg yolks and mix them together well.
- Set a 10-inch cast iron skillet on the stove over medium high heat. Let it heat up until very hot.
- Meanwhile, stir the buttermilk-egg mixture into the cornmeal mixture. Stir, using a whisk or a large spoon, just enough to make a good soft batter. It should be wet and medium-soupy. Add a little more buttermilk if needed.
- Add the vegetable oil to the hot skillet and let it heat up till it is smoking. Quickly pour the hot oil into the cornmeal batter in the bowl and set the hot skillet back on the stove, still over medium high heat.
- Move fast now. Stir the hot grease into the batter. Add the batter to the hot skillet, and let it heat until the sides are bubbling and sizzling, a minute or two. Turn off the stove, and then place the skillet full of cornbread batter in the 400 degree oven. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the cornbread has risen and become dry on top and is beginning to crack.
- Remove from the oven and turn the cornbread over, so that the top is in the hot pan and the bottom is on top. Return to the oven to brown the top side on the hot pan's surface, 4 to 5 minutes more. (If you are up to it, do what Pableaux's grandfother does. Grab that skillet with hot pads in your two hands, and flip that cornbread in the air to turn it over. Pableaux can do it! But I do it with a spatula, cautiously, and it is just fantastic cornbread. Don't worry --- make cornbread and red beans!)
- When the top has browned, remove the skillet from the oven and turn the cornbread out onto a serving plate, top side up. Serve hot with butter and Steen's Pure Cane Syrup if you have some.
- Makes one 10-inch skillet of cornbread, serves 8 - 10
If you don't have a cast iron skillet, set out a 9-inch square or round baking pan. Grease it well with bacon grease, vegetable oil, or butter, and place it in the oven to heat up while you make the batter. Heat the vegetable oil until very hot in a small saucepan or skillet, and add it to the cornbread batter as directed. Pull the heated greased pan out of the oven, scrape in the cornbread batter, and bake it as directed.