I’m going to be honest: I dreaded Mondays when I was a kid. Mondays meant red beans and I did not like red beans. I ate the sausage, but the beans were not my thing. It wasn’t until I was in college and cooking regularly that I really began to appreciate red beans made in the New Orleans style.
I do not often discuss my late adoption of red beans, but I feel like I have a bit of cover now that I’ve interviewed Vince Hayward, of Camellia Beans, who admitted that when he was a kid he dreaded Mondays too. He, like I, learned to love red beans later in life, which is particularly fortuitous in his case because he owns a bean company. If he did not like beans one would think his life would be difficult.
Camellia can date its start to the mid 19th century, when Sawyer Hayward arrived from the Caribbean, and its current iteration to 1923, when the L. H. Hayward Company was formed. By that point the business had centered on dried beans, and that’s still the primary focus today.
I grow beans in my back yard, sometimes successfully, and I was curious whether Camellia had ever considered selling “fresh” beans. They’d looked into it, Hayward said, but there’s a lot of variability in fresh beans, and their customers want a consistent product when the beans are cooked.
That consistency is why they’ve dealt with the same farms for generations. These are small farms, relatively speaking, and family-owned. Think 500 acres instead of 500,000. They know how to produce beans that meet Camellia’s standard.
The pandemic has affected Camellia’s business. Hayward said that while retail sales were up, their sales to restaurants, cafeterias and other institutional customers were nonexistent. Overall it sounds like they’re doing ok.
To their credit, they looked at how to keep their employees safe early on. They insisted on face masks and looked at how they could change their process to keep workers as far apart as possible. Wherever possible, their staff work from home and meetings are now virtual. Their efforts seem to have paid off, as they’ve had no significant outbreaks.
I made red beans and rice with sausage and ham on Monday of this week. We soaked the beans overnight and I drained most, but not all, of the soaking liquid off before I cooked them. I started with some diced sausage – hogs for the cause sausage – and once it browned a bit I added some diced ham. (I’d have gone for all sausage, but I didn’t have enough).
Threw some trinity into the pot and let it cook with a bay leaf for around 15 minutes, so the vegetables would soften, then I added the beans and some thyme with enough water to cover by a couple of inches. A couple of hours later, and after I’d mashed some of the beans to give the whole pot that silky, sexy texture and dinner was served. Vinegar and hot sauce passed at the table.
I will admit that I put some butter into the pot before I served it to my family. I feel no shame about it, and I recommend it to you wholeheartedly if you do not have bacon fat on hand.