Erickson-style baked beans

I resemble my mom’s side of the family in looks, but when it comes to my relationship with food, I’m a daddy’s girl. In Dad’s family, the Ericksons, food isn’t just sustenance; it’s a form of enjoyment and a way to show people you care.

Dad had four sisters who all were very different. Janice, whom we lost a few years ago, was the oldest of the sisters. She was the mother hen and the boss; with all those siblings running around – and four kids of her own – someone had to be.

Shirley is serenity and elegance personified. She’s got a soothing presence; just being near her makes you realize that everything is going to be OK.

Bev, the baby of the bunch, is a little bit country and a whole lot rock ‘n’ roll. She and I are probably the most alike; we can both be stubborn and ornery, we have high expectations of the rest of the world and we’re both often singing or dancing along to the soundtrack in our heads (which is probably tuned to the same station). In other words, Bev is perfect and should never change.

Sheila, who was closest to my dad in age, passed away suddenly last week. She was the tomboy and the one I’ve always associated most closely with food. I don’t know if Sheila was the best cook of the bunch – it’s sort of like naming the best-looking of the Hemsworth brothers – but the kitchen was her domain and she made the simplest of ingredients taste amazing.

Whenever we had Erickson family get-togethers, I’d make a beeline for the kitchen. I’d offer to help, grab bites of food, ask questions and generally make a nuisance of myself, waiting for someone – anyone – to utter those three little words I so desperately longed to hear: “Sheila’s bringing beans.”

I looked forward to Sheila’s baked beans at every family event and I don’t even like baked beans – they were that good. I once asked for the secret recipe. “There’s no secret,” Sheila said. “It’s canned baked beans mixed with barbecue.” (“Barbecue” needed no further explanation; every Erickson baby exits the womb with a genetic imprint of the family’s barbecue recipe included.)

The pastor who officiated at Sheila’s funeral last week noted that Sheila showed her love for people by “stuffing them like turkeys.” It’s comforting to know that’s a family trait. I may not look like Dad’s side of the family, but there’s still a whole lot of Erickson underneath.

Note: The trick to this recipe is to taste as you go along. Canned beans vary in sweetness, so if the beans are too sweet, add a touch of vinegar or even some barbecue sauce.

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