Among the many reasons I’m thankful for my sister-in-law, Karen (most important of which being my incredible nephews Tray, Luke, and Josh), green bean bundles rank pretty high on the list. Since she and my brother, Louie, married when I was fairly young, I can’t remember what all we feasted on in the years before her tasty bundles and sweet potato casserole. Except for my mom’s dressing, half oyster-laden and half without. Did I mention that Mom and Louie were the only ones who’d eat the oyster variety? Oh, don’t get me to digressing…
Green bean bundles bring together three of Southerners’ favorite spices–salt, sugar, and pig–in one delicious, bite-sized morsel. Yes, y’all, I realize some folks might not think of pig as a spice, but once they spend a day or two south of the Mason-Dixon line they’ll most likely come around. After all, it’s the secret (or not) ingredient in everything from black-eyed peas and collard greens to cornbread and pie crusts.
I should warn you that A. green bean bundles are a bitch to make and B. they make a mess you don’t even want to look at, much less clean up, but they are worth it. I promise. Don’t just take my word for it. As part of my mission to spread a little Southern hospitality around Seattle, I’ve brought them to many a Thanksgiving gathering and there are never any leftovers. Like ever, y’all.
Oh, but you might want to keep the recipe a secret, seeing as some folks might freak out about the copious amounts of butter and sugar involved. Perhaps issue a word of warning to those with sensitive arteries.
I’ll give y’all the basic recipe, but you’ll want to scale up, depending on the number of folks you’re feeding and how hungry they are. I reckon this serves about six or eight at the most.
Start with two cans of whole green beans. Not the fancy French cut kind. And not actual fresh green beans. I know, fresh green beans taste way better than their distant relatives in the can, but they just don’t work for bundles. I have tried and failed, just to save you the trouble.
Open the cans and pour out all the bean juice. I like to put the beans in a bowl, but you can pick them out of the can if you don’t want to mess up a dish.
Meanwhile, take a package of bacon (whatever kind you like) and slice the whole thing into thirds. You may be tempted to stretch it out by cutting the bacon strips into fourths, but try and resist the urge to make these less decadent. You’ll thank me later.
Line a baking dish with aluminum foil, unless you want Pyrex soaking in your sink for a week.
Now, pick up a small bundle of similar sized beans (about 4 or 5), wrap it with 1/3 a strip of bacon, and secure it with a toothpick. Place the bundle in the baking dish. Keep doing this until all the green beans and bacon are wrapped. Or until you are tired and can trick somebody else into doing the work. (You may not want to trust children under six, but by a certain point you may cease to care how they look.) Note: fit as many as you can into one baking dish. They may appear to be too crowded, but there will be shrinkage.
After you’ve got all the bundles bundled, it’s time to dress them.
Melt 3/4 stick of butter (6 tablespoons), then add 1/2 cup brown sugar, a little garlic powder and some salt and pepper. Then distribute the mixture as evenly as possible atop the bundles.
Oh, I forgot to tell you to preheat the oven to 375 degrees. So once that’s done, cover the pan with aluminum foil and pop it in the oven. Bake for about 25 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes. Your cooking time may vary, just be sure that the bacon is cooked through and the whole thing looks caramelized.
Many years back, my sister decided that making the bundles for our whole family was far too much trouble. She does a deconstructed version called Green Beans, Unbundled. Basically, she just takes all the ingredients, throws them in an electric skillet, and stirs occasionally till they reach maximum caramelization. This is the way to go if you’re pressed for time, or if you accidentally wind up with French-cut green beans because the person you sent to the store buys the wrong thing even though you specifically told them NOT to get the French cut kind. Hypothetically, of course.
Remember when I said y’all should resist the urge to make them less decadent? Well, you can get away with using the less fatty center cut bacon and maybe even reducing the amount of buttery, sugary sauce. However, whatever you do, don’t go and try to make them healthy.
Refrain from altering the recipe to include:
Turkey bacon (or worse, veggie!)
Or heaven forbid, all of the above.
My sister once encountered this abomination at her very own Thanksgiving table. It may have been the one and only time there were left-over bundles. LOTS of left-over bundles.
My very first Thanksgiving away from home, I wanted to recreate the family feast but hadn’t a clue where to start seeing as I had previously been responsible for only the sweet potato casserole portion of the meal (thanks again for that recipe, Karen).
My mom sent me a handy Thanksgiving preparation guide, which has been indispensable over the years. Whenever I pull out the photocopied pages of her recipes and read her description about how to do the dressing and such, I can still sense her with me, as if she’s looking over my shoulder saying, “Make sure your turkey has been out of the freezer for at least two days” or “Don’t forget to toast the pecans.” Of all the things I’m thankful for–and there are far too many blessings to count–I’m glad I had my mother with me to share the first 37 years of my life. I only wish she could’ve stuck around for 37 more. If only to hear what she had to say about those “healthy” green bean bundles…
I’d like to dedicate this post to Karen’s mom, Betty Glen, who died just last week. I couldn’t thank her enough for bringing Karen into the world to become part of our crazy (but well-fed) family.
Green Bean Bundles, Karen Holloway
2 (16 oz.) cans whole green beans
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 stick butter, melted
salt and pepper
Cut bacon strips in thirds (or half). Wrap around small bunch of green beans and secure with toothpick. Place in foil-covered pan. Make a glaze from the butter, brown sugar, garlic powder and salt and pepper. Pour over beans. Bake covered at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. Bake uncovered for another 20 minutes.
What’s your favorite Thanksgiving side dish?