Our Hill of Beans

I knew my 6-year-old granddaughter wanted to cook with me, but the opportunity was hard to find. I worry about hot pans and heated ovens, knives that are sharp and liquids that spill.

One Sunday afternoon it happened. Her TV time had run out. She wanted more, and I couldn’t let her. Her mom was away and her father was at the supermarket. I stood in front of the TV so that she couldn’t see the screen. Her eyes were narrowed, and her mouth was turned down. She was angry. She strode into the playroom and jumped on the couch, arms folded. “You’re mad at me,” I said. “That’s OK, but there’s no more television.” “Humpf.”

We sat in silence for a few minutes and then I had a brainstorm. “Want to help me fix the beans?” She sat up, interested. I had brought haricots vert for dinner. I love that bean. It’s thin and tasty with hardly takes any cooking.

“Come,” I said, “let’s snap the beans.”

What child could turn down such an invitation? She followed me.  I washed the beans and put them on the kitchen table between us. I showed her how to snap the nasty tip of the bean. She liked it, but then commented that it would be faster if we had a knife and just chopped them all off at once. At that moment I had a brainstorm.

“Oh, no,” I said, “for hundreds of years grandmothers and granddaughters have been sitting together, snapping the ends off the beans. Even in the time of George Washington.” Mazie was interested. “Even when grandmas wore long dresses down to the ground and granddaughters wore aprons.” Now I had her. We snapped in peace. As the pile of snapped beans grew, Mazie gave me a look. “Could I try one?” “Sure,” I said (they were well washed). She liked it. Could she have another? Of course.

Then I suggested that she try a third and really taste it, so that she could compare the taste of a raw bean with the taste of the bean we would cook for dinner. I told her that soon I’d bring peas for us to shell. She could taste them raw and cooked. And in the summer we might even try a tiny bit of raw corn, and then compare it to the cooked.

Later, at dinner, my granddaughter tried the cooked bean. Oh, did it taste good, with just a little salt and butter. Then she had another. And another.

After dinner, she and her brother were allowed to watch one TV show before bath time. Mazie took the pile of leftover beans with her. She came back with an empty bowl.

There’s nothing much to this story: an old lady, a little girl, and a pile of beans. But how often, in this time of screens and apps, do we have a chance to snap and taste and do a bit of time travel together?

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