Bean Fest, Episode 7: The Home-Ec Supper Club

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Welcome back to Bean Fridays! A change of pace this week: Instead of a recipe, an idea.

Our friend Ari was hanging out with us a while back, and we were talking about how its fun to eat at a friend’s house, even if they don’t serve up anything special, how a commonplace dish for one person is a novel thrill to another. And of course,  how just being together is what makes it fun.

The problem is that we too often think that having people over for dinner means throwing a dinner party, and that you have to really put on the dog: clean the house, cook a fancy multi-course meal, deploy table runners and wine charms and strange little forks and who knows what. Even throwing a backyard bbq can get pricey and involved.

Well, maybe some people are liberated enough to not think this way, but I have deep, even genetically programmed anxiety about hostessing that transforms me from my usually lazy self into a Martha Stewart demon at the mere mention of a dinner party. (Ask Erik.)

Well, good-bye to that and hello Home-Ec Supper Club, also called the Beans and Rice Party.

This is the deal that Ari, Erik and I came up with. We’d invite over a mixed group of friends with similar interests in home-ec, home arts, bikes, brewing, bees, homesteading, whatever you want to call it. Practical people, basically.  Erik and I, as hosts, would provide a simple, cheap big pot of something. Cheap being key, because we’re broke. We made rice and beans. The Bastardized Puerto Rican Bean recipe from few weeks ago, as a matter of fact. Stew or chili would be another good option.

Having that on hand, we know no one is going hungry, but for variety, we threw open the door to the guests to bring anything they want–or absolutely nothing at all—but not to spend more than 5 bucks on anything they did decide to bring. We didn’t want to cause those grim forced marches to the liquor store to buy a nice bottle of wine, or emergency trips to the deli case of Whole Foods. No. We wanted people’s surplus, or nothing at all. What did they have in the garden? What were they sick of eating? That’s a Home Ec Supper contribution.

It wasn’t hard to make some beans and rice, and it sure didn’t stress our budget. I didn’t clean the house up much beyond basic hygiene. There was zero tablescaping. We had 12 guests, more than Erik and I have ever had to dinner. It stretched our crockery to the limit. Some people had to eat out of bowls instead of plates. Others had to drink out of jam jars and novelty cocktail glasses. To seat them all, we had to bring our outside table inside and line it up with our usual table–and we borrowed 5 chairs from Homegrown Neighbor. Everyone had to squash up tight.

The guests arrived with amazing offerings from their yards and kitchens, everything from a bowl of sweet, ripe pineapple guavas to a salad with green tomatoes to homemade biscuits to an apple butter tart for dessert–and most excitingly (not to play favorites) a keg of homebrew. It pays to know brewers. We didn’t do any formal potluck organizing, but it worked out just perfectly anyway.

So we started with beans and rice, but ended up with a feast. But even if we’d only had beans and rice, we would have been happy. That’s the key to this. It’s not about the food, it’s about the company. Worry about food was just excised from the scheme. We all had a good time. No one was stressed, not even the hosts. We all pledged to do it again in a month at someone else’s house. And so–we hope–a tradition is born.

We invite you to start your own Home Ec Supper Club in your area. The weather is cooling, it’s harvest season, it’s a great time to come together with friends, make new ones, too, and share the bounty.

And if you do, please let us know how it went!

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13 Comments

  1. I love this idea, and I’m totally going to try it. I have SERIOUS anxiety about serving people dinner in my home, and it’s worse now that I’m a single mom. In fact, the better I learn to cook, the more nervous I am about feeding people. I can’t wait to type out an E-vite (possibly even stealing some of your words) telling people we’ll be having low-key poor people food :) .

  2. Back when I was totally poor and lived in the bay area, I had a group of friends who did exactly what you’re describing once a month. Except they called it an austerity party. Many memories of good bean dishes there. Some people made it a little more festive/camp by dressing up in Hooverville outfits. I wrote about this over at Simple Green Frugal Co-op a while ago.

  3. I love this and I have been thinking of doing the same thing! Glad to hear that your gathering went well. I hope to have a gathering next week. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  4. I have just discovered this blog and am already in love with having found some kindred-spirits of sorts out there. I have dinner parties all the time and always end up spending more than I should because I too get sucked into the Martha Stewart Syndrome of needing to be the perfect hostess. I can’t wait to read more of your blog and try out some of these fantastic ideas! So glad you guys created this!!

  5. My friends and I do something you might be interested. We all make a big batch of something that can be frozen (soup, stews, and rice and beans stuff) place them into ziplock containers and then do a soup share. This way we all end up with different meals other than the same bowl of soup for 15 days and we do a taste test of everyone that we are interested in on the night of.

  6. Love the bean fest posts! It has inspired me to make beans also, and to find the best way to cook them in a crock pot, which has been surprisingly difficult. The “drop it in the pot” way of cooking took me a good 24 hours to get results (not helped by old beans, no doubt), and I’m now working under the idea of heating part or all of the liquid outside the crockpot and then adding it in to let it simmer. The heat up time seems to be the sticking point with the Crock – just takes forever. Luckily, I’ve started all my beans a day before I wanted to eat them so I’ve HAD the 24 hours to cook them, but I was just hoping it would be a bit easier. Whine whine – good beans are worth the wait though, so keep on with your bean fest ideas, as it keeps inspiring me to cook ‘em!

    I should say – the reason I’m trying to hone my bean making technique is that I grew my very own beans for drying (the rattlesnake beans I saw that you also grew in another post), so I want to make sure I know what the heck I’m doing before I cook up my very own fresh-dried beans. Next year, I have 4 additional growing areas for dried beans, so I’m hoping to grow unique ones to eat. Good for the soil, helps shade the house, good for us humans – love legumes!

  7. @Linda

    I wish I had some advice for you re: the crock pot, but I know nothing of them. Hopefully someone might leave some hints here.

    Good for you for growing your own beans. We always mean to grow more than we do. Maybe next summer? The ultimate would be to grow your own beans and then cook them and can them. That’s home-ec fast food for you. ;) But we need a pressure canner for that. :(

  8. Everyone:

    Thanks for liking this idea. And I’m not surprised that other people are already doing similar things. Please do tell us how your parties turned out. You can leave your reports here, if you like.

  9. I was looking through my 1946 copy of The Joy of Cooking, and came across this passage, which I thought you might like: “No matter whom you are entertaining try not to be unduly impressed with the fact that something unusual is expected of you as a hostess. It isn’t. Distinguished persons are usually simple. They dislike ostentation and nothing is more disconcerting to a guest than the impression that his coming is causing a household commotion.”

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