Difficulty rating: Harry Potter
Deliciousness rating: NEWT
People had big mugs of beer and big, crisp-looking sausages and baked potatoes in their hands. They held the sausages and the baked potatoes wrapped in a paper napkin and took bites of them between swigs of beer. Even though it was late at night, three or four little kids ran around among the tables. It was the greatest place I had ever seen. Winston Bongo thought so, too. Rat, of course, had been there before. “Have a beer?” she asked. I had tasted beer before, and I hadn’t liked it. It was sour and sort of soapy tasting. I never understood why anybody wanted to drink it. However, in Beanbender’s it seemed that holding a mug of beer in one’s hand was the thing to do, so I went up to the bar and got one along with Rat and Winston and Captain Shep Nesterman. Beanbender’s beer was nothing like the stuff in cans that my father drinks. It had a nutty taste, and it was cold and good. The guy at the bar was Ben Beanbender, the owner of the beer garden. He didn’t ask us for identification or anything. He just filled mugs from a big barrel and handed them to us. I also got a baked potato. Ben Beanbender poked a hole in one end with his thumb, slapped in a hunk of butter, salted and peppered the potato, wrapped it in a napkin, and handed it to me. It was great! The potato was almost too hot to hold, and the salty butter dribbled onto my sleeve. It tasted just fantastic with the beer. The beer and the baked potato cost fifty cents. It’s the best deal in Baconburg. (Pinkwater 1982: 90-91)
So this is my book that, if you don’t like it, you are dead to me.
I came across it in the more-or-less neglected and tiny library of my rural high school, maybe around 1990 when I was a freshman or sophomore. I probably picked it up because it mentioned avocados, one of my favorite foods [native Californian] and not because of the frankly hideous cover.
I remember reading it and getting an enormous sense of relief that finally I was no longer alone in the world. There were other people out there who were just as weird as me! It’s probably also the source of my fondness for mysterious late-night wanderings and ratty old movie theaters.
Confession time: when I graduated from high school I kept the library copy of TSBATAOD and I still have it. I just felt that I couldn’t leave it behind to be ignored and eventually gotten rid of. I mean, they even spelled the word “avocado” wrong on the due date card. They didn’t. even. care.
Anyway, when we were brainstorming things to make for the blog, one of the first meals that came to mind was…
BEANBENDER’S BAKED POTATOES AND SAUSAGES WITH BEER
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this recipe turned into a whole adventure! (And since I grew up at a summer camp — my parents were the directors — I was raised to believe that an adventure is the best possible thing that could happen to you. Miko sometimes makes fun of my habit of saying, “It’ll be an adventure!” when anything doesn’t go according to plan, but I know she secretly agrees with me. DON’T YOU, MIKO.)
First, we needed to explore beer options. Miko is not a fan of beer in general, and I mostly appreciate it in a sort of intellectual, “Hmm, that’s an interesting flavor variation” way, but I don’t really drink it often. So we consulted our many beer-expert friends, giving them the description above, and they recommended AleSmith’s Nut Brown Ale. But we didn’t stop there! No, we actually went to the AleSmith tasting room to try out some different beers.
Then we went home for naps, because…
We decided we needed to actually Snark Out! [“Snarking is the art of sneaking out of the house when your parents are sleeping and having an adventure late at night. The adventure usually includes or consists of going to the movies at the Snark Theater, from which the art of snarking takes its name.” (Pinkwater 1985: 3)] “Winston invented Snarking Out, and he insists on hats. They have to have brims, so we can keep our faces in shadow.” (Pinkwater 1982: 5)
Ingredients & Special Supplies:
- Sausages (we had sweet onion and sage, bourbon, and bacon bratwurst)
- Oil (we used a light olive oil)
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- KerryGold butter
- Cast-iron skillet
- Meat thermometer
Adapted from Alton Brown’s recipe
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees and position rack in the center of the oven.
2. Wash potatoes thoroughly in cold running water.
3. Dry, then use a fork to poke holes all over the potato.
4. Coat the potato lightly with oil.
5. Sprinkle with kosher salt and place potato directly on rack in the middle of the oven. Place a baking sheet on the lower rack to catch any drippings.
6. Bake 1 hour or so until the skin feels crisp but the inside feels soft. 7. Poke a big, Beanbender-thumb-sized hole into the side of potato with the end of a rolling pin or a similar tool (because we don’t want to burn ourselves).
8. Fill it with TONS of butter.
9. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
10. Wrap in a paper napkin.
Recipe adapted from the Piggery’s instructions
1. Pre-warm cast-iron pan over medium-low heat.
2. Cook until brown on one side, about 10 mins. Flip and cook for another 5 mins.
3. Start taking internal temperature. Don’t poke too many holes! Cover and cook till temp registers 145 degrees.
4. Take the sausages off the heat and let them rest, covered, for 5 minutes.
5. Wrap in a paper napkin.
1. Take a bite of sausage, a bite of potato, and then a swig of beer. Repeat.
2. Add more butter to potato if the butter’s not dripping down your wrist.
Did It Measure Up?
Yes! It was the kind of satisfying meal that fills you with warmth and joy all the way to the fingertips. It’s not a difficult meal to make, but you also can’t cut corners with the ingredients. What if we’d used old butter that’s been sitting in the fridge for a month? Or a bottled beer from Vons? Or microwaved the potato? Or used precooked Trader Joe’s sausages? No, you have to get the best you can get of everything, especially because it’s a simple meal you could have every day.
Eating it in the middle of the night gave it extra enjoyment. The combination of potato + sausage + beer was heavenly.
Miko: Seriously, it is one of the favorite meals I have ever had in my life. And that’s saying something, because I eat like a Hobbit.
Update: I (Jenne) posted on Daniel Pinkwater’s forum page about this, and he wrote back! I’m not kidding, I almost cried when I read this.
“Literature inspired by life, life inspired by literature. Here’s what inspired the Beanbender’s menu in my book, (Beanbender’s itself was inspired by one of the real-life beer gardens that I encountered in Chicago in the 1950s, only the beer was not inspiring, and the sausage was some kind of sliced salami on rye, no potatoes): I had a stopover on the way to Africa in Zurich, Switzerland, on a Sunday and everything was closed. There were vendors who’d sell you a slightly burnt sausage and a half-burnt, half-raw, heavy, doughy roll–not a sandwich, the idea was hold the sausage in a piece of paper on one hand, and the roll in a piece of paper in the other. The experience was a combination of awfully good, and awful yet good. The experience of the beer garden in Chicago was a combination of a nice idea, and mediocre drink and food. So, years later, I did what fiction writers do–I created an ideal experience I would have liked to have had, using elements of real-life that suggested an ideal but fell short of it. I read your brilliant account of your brilliant experiment, and I wish I’d been there. If I had, I might have suggested that both the sausages and the potatoes should be just a little bit scorched, also that the whole process should take place outdoors in slightly dangerous-seeming and unsanitary conditions, in unexpected company–which in this case would have been me, turning up by complete chance. I have never had beer as good as the beer I imagined when I wrote that scene. To come anywhere close, it would need to be very very cold.”
Pinkwater, Daniel. The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death. New York: Signet, 1982.
Pinkwater, Daniel. The Snarkout Boys and the Baconburg Horror. New York: Signet, 1985.