Food is one of the great concerns in life, and therefore, it’s all over popular music. Once a month, Stuart Persons will spotlight one of those tunes, with a related recipe. Great to hear while cooking, great to hear while eating, it’s Prandial Platters.
“POT HOUND BLUES” by LUCILLE BOGAN (Brunswick Records 7083, 1927)
The blues is often filled with want, so it’s no surprise that the genre is a rich source of food songs. References crop up in a myriad of blues songs from the 1920’s and 1930’s, notably in Leadbelly’s Library of Congress recording of “Take this Hammer”, in which he laments in the culinary choices available to the cogs of the sharecropping system (“I don’t want to cornbread and molasses/ it hurts my pride…”)
Most blues singers were feeling the sting of poverty, but Lucille Bogan wasn’t. Proving in her songs a thorough knowledge of the oldest profession (“Tricks Ain’t Walkin No More”), willingness to make a buck (“Whiskey Selling Woman Blues”) and desire to stand on her own (“Come a Time a Woman Won’t Need No Man”), her songs stand out as feminist anthems in tune with the modern zeitgeist. Most famous for her raunchy blues, “Shave’em Dry”, Bogan sings it straight without innuendo. She’ll keep you around if she can find a reason for you, and if she can’t, then, like she says, “I’ve got a gat, and it’s an automat- tell me what you think I’m gonna do with that!”
Today’s song, “Pot Hound Blues” is about one of these freeloaders she’d like to pick off like ticks. She’s tired of his mess, and she’s tired of cookin’ food for him. Laying around the house all day- What kind of man is that? Nothing but a dirty pot hound.
“Now you’re layin’ up in my bed, between my two white sheets
I can’t see and smell nothin’, but your doggone feet
And I’m thru, tryin’ to make a man of you
And if you can’t bring a job don’t you look for your daily stew”
You’ve got to contribute to this stew if you eat it. Lucille Bogan, standing six foot two and weighting two hundred and thirty pounds, means it. If you come around her kitchen for some stew and beans, you’d better provide something. Like Marvin Gaye, she’ll be doggone if she’s gonna work to bring you her pay:
“I worked hard from Monday until late Saturday night
And you’re a dirty mistreater, you ain’t treatin’ me right
And I’m thru, cookin’ your stew and beans
And you’s a dirty pot hound, dirty as any man I’ve seen”
Here’s the song, hear it for yourself:
While I’m sitting here worrying about pot hounds coming into my house and eating all of my stew and beans, I’m kind of wondering what the exact value of stew and beans is. I mean, what are some good stews and beans that I’d really get rough to keep a pot hound out of? What kinds of recipes would Lucille Bogan know?
So If I’m imagining a good southern stew and beans, first thing I would do is find some kidney beans and some okra. Everything else is going to be secondary. Also I want to make this as authentic as possible, so appliances that Lucille Bogan wouldn’t have had access to are out. I think it would go something like this:
1 pound bag of dry kidney beans
10-12 pods of okra, cut
4 cups corn
2 tablespoons cayenne powder
1/4 cup bacon fat
1 bag of spinach
4 green peppers, diced
1 large white onion
1 quart chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
thyme to taste
1 bay leaf in one of those tea balls
Got everything together? Good. This is going to take anywhere from four to six hours, so queue up the Document Records compilations of Lucille Bogan hits while you go. This is how she would have done it. Here goes:
1. Soak beans in cold water the night before. Drain and rinse beans. Throw in the chicken broth and another quart of water and start cooking on low four to six hours before dinner.
2. About an hour into this odyssey, you need to add all herbs and spices(that bay leaf in the cat toy, among others), the fat, and some of the vegetables. Don’t add the spinach or the okra yet.
3. Stir often and drink heavily. So what if you fill up on beer and aren’t even hungry when it’s dinner time? You’ll appreciate tomorrow’s food more than you will tonight’s.
4. Whatimezit? Oh, okay- three hours into your stew, add the okra. Go back to your records and the piano. It’s nice to cook, isn’t it? Egad! Is that a pot hound at the door? Ah- ’twas only the wind!
5. Spinach, cook for an hour, then serve with some genuine corn bread! Or throw a lid over it and eat it tomorrow at work. I don’t care. Just bring me a job, a job from anywhere. And if you don’t bring a job, you can’t have your stew and beans, ’cause you the dirtiest pot houd, the dirtiest I’ve ever seen!