The day the butter beans blew

Posted 3/25/18

We stopped by to see Jilda’s sister Nell a few weeks ago. During our visit, she told us about her latest kitchen thingamajig. It’s one of those new-fangled digital pressure cookers. When Jilda …

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The day the butter beans blew


We stopped by to see Jilda’s sister Nell a few weeks ago. During our visit, she told us about her latest kitchen thingamajig. It’s one of those new-fangled digital pressure cookers. When Jilda realized the device was a pressure cooker, she flinched and took a small step backward. My lovely spouse is not a fan of pressure cookers and hasn’t been since the '70s.

Jilda’s mother Ruby cooked every day. Most days her stove baked, boiled, roasted, and fried stuff. But now and then she’d remove the pressure cooker from the bottom shelf of her cabinet, wash it out, and press it into service. She cooked roasts, chicken, poke salad, and beans. 

You could tell she was using the pressure cooker in the kitchen when you walked through her front door. The cooker had a float valve on top that rattled to the rhythm of Southern food at its finest. At the time, I’d never had anything that tasted better than the stuff coming from that spewing cook-horse. 

When Jilda and I married, Ruby and Sharky bought us a pressure cooker as a housewarming gift. We were ecstatic. Like her mom, Jilda cooked every day. On occasions when she used it, the pressure cooker took meals to the next level.

For a while I had to work second shift at MaBell. One Friday I knocked off a half day. After calling Jilda, I headed home from Hoover. The drive takes about an hour. Jilda decided to surprise me by cooking butter beans and hot-buttered cornbread. She knew it was one of my favorite meals.

She scooted a kitchen chair over and removed the pressure cooker off the top of the fridge. On the counter by the stove she’d laid out a bag of beans and a slab of bacon big enough to cause arterial distress in heart patients. 

She measured the beans and water as she mixed everything in the cooker. She preheated the oven and got to work mixing up cornmeal and her other secret ingredients for the cornbread. 

While the meal was in cooking, she went to the bathroom to change out of her work clothes. Suddenly she heard an alarming sound from the kitchen. It wasn’t an explosion but a whooshing WHUMP sound. She raced half naked to the kitchen to find a hole the size of your thumb in the ceiling. Butter beans were dripping off the ceiling, light fixtures, and our German Shepard Duke. He was always an asset when it came to cleaning up messes like that in the kitchen.

We’re not sure if it was the salt she’d added or maybe there was too much water, but the cooker built up too much pressure. All the contents of the cooker shot out through the pressure release valve. We were still finding beans in that kitchen until we sold that house trailer. 

After that butter bean episode, Jilda tossed the lid to the pressure cooker in the garbage. She would have tossed the little rattling valve thingy too, but we never found it. That event made her skittish of pressure cookers.

This past weekend, I decided to dance with the devil. Walmart had one of those new digital pressure cookers so I bought one for her upcoming birthday. She howled when I put it on the table. “You know those things don’t like me,” she said.  We both laughed remembering the “butter bean disaster” as it’s come to be known in our family lore. 

We unboxed the new cooker, read the instructions, and watched YouTube video. Jilda decided to give it a try. I was thrilled. Within 34 minutes we had a pot of butter beans that were so good they “made me want to slap my mama,” as the old saying goes. The new cooker has an automatic shutdown function that should prevent another culinary calamity. 

Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book, "Life Goes On," is available on You can contact him via email at