I love college football. No, I don’t sit in front of the TV and watch every game that rolls across the screen. I love the event, being at the stadium, the noise, the crowds, the crazy cheers, the sounds of the pads hitting, interacting with the fans around me. Win or lose, though winning is preferred, it’s the moment, those Saturdays where I can get lost in a tradition.
That tradition starts well before the game with a pastime as great as the game itself – tailgating.
Whether you do it simply, right from the trunk of your car, or with an elaborate set-up with market tents, cornhole games, and serious grills, this act of eating in the shadow of a football stadium is about as fun as a meal can be. And for me, it’s one filled with memories.
When I was in college, my parents became the resident counselors of tailgating for a group of my friends and suitemates, along with our dates.
“Mama Jewell,” as my buddies christened her, would show up at every game with a trunk full of food. Home cooking that rose to new heights, especially after a steady diet of dining hall disasters, and before the invasion of fast food on campus. Mama would fry chicken, usually at least three birds to feed our hungry crowd, and serve them with potato salad, collard greens and pecan pies that were so popular that she would make a full 9-inch pie for each of us. And then there were her baked beans, brimming with onions, green peppers and ground beef, almost a meal in itself. Dad’s contribution was plenty of Jack Daniels along with ginger ale and Seven-Up. We had it made. All they ever asked in return was a fun afternoon and a chance to be part of their son’s college adventure.
I know you folks like baked beans. The other baked bean recipe that I’ve shared in this column, Fred’s Baked Beans, is often requested. (Find it at http://nando.com/c6.) I think you will enjoy this riff as well. The ground beef makes the beans hearty, but at the same time neutral for all the different proteins that you can concoct for tailgating. The beans add volume but never disturb. You always want seconds, and the flavors linger. They are a perfect side with just enough of a gourmet twist to impress, and not at all complicated to prepare. Make them a day or two ahead because they get better as the ingredients meld.
I think you need a couple of awesome but different baked bean recipes to get you through tailgating season, and the same with potato salad, the other tailgating must. With most of us looking at seven home games, a little variety is a good thing. But don’t just use these beans for tailgating. They are perfect for the neighborhood cookouts still to come, and will get you raves at those potluck family reunions.
Maybe it was those early tailgates with my buddies and my parents that have stoked my love of the college game. I kept the tradition alive when my daughter went to college. While my dad passed more than 30 years ago, I don’t go to a game without remembering the joy he had during my college experience. Now I start a different set of memories with my year-old grandson, watching his head twist and turn as he curiously takes it all in, and how cute he is dressed in red and white.
I understand, Dad, I really do.
For a printable copy of the recipe, click the link:
HEAT oven to 350 degrees.
COMBINE all the ingredients in a large bowl. Stir until well combined.
POUR into a large baking dish, cover with foil, and bake for 1 hour. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 20 minutes or until the beans have thickened. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Serve with: Anything from fried chicken to barbecue. Add some deviled eggs and potato salad for a wonderful feast. Don’t forget a great dessert either.
To drink: Whatever your favorite tailgate beverage; mine would be bourbon and ginger ale.Yield: 8-10 servings