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A CASSEROLE BURSTING WITH BEANS

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Your concoctions don't have to be complicated. Even baked beans may be enough to make your memory live for generations -- in at least one or two families, anyway.

Jerry Cashwell hasn't crossed my path in nearly 30 years, but every time I crave baked beans, this lovely lady -- my mom's dear pal when I was just a kid -- comes springing to mind. There she is at the pool party, at the beach picnic, always bearing a steaming casserole of beans with just the right hint of brown sugar toned down by a squirt of good old yellow mustard.

This recipe is so easy, (10 minutes to mix, then a half-hour to bake), I learned to make it even before middle school. When I headed for my first college apartment, I carefully copied the recipe on an index card and stuck it in my suitcase. The card is almost brown now, splattered with bean juice and scribbled with notes from various experiments over the years. In my fat-free phase, I omitted the bacon. The black beans were added one Halloween.

With the Labor Day weekend of grilling and neighborhood potlucks upon us, it only seemed right to perpetuate Jerry Cashwell's legacy. Think of her with a jet-black page-boy and gigantic smile, standing barefoot in the yard in flowered pedal pushers. She's the one holding the beans.

JERRY'S BEST BAKED BEANS

Non-stick cooking-oil spray

1 can (15 ounces) black beans

1 large can (28 ounces) vegetarian baked beans

1 large onion (for 1 cup chopped)

1 medium green bell pepper (for 1 cup chopped)

1/4 cup ketchup

2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed

2 tablespoons prepared mustard

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a 9-by-11-inch baking dish with cooking-oil spray. Pour all of the beans with their liquid into the dish. Peel and coarsely chop the onion, and add it to the dish. Seed and dice the bell pepper, and add it to the dish.

Add the ketchup, brown sugar, mustard, Worcestershire and garlic powder. Stir gently, but thoroughly, until the ingredients are mixed well.

Bake the beans 30 to 35 minutes or until the mixture is bubbly and the onion and pepper are tender. Serve at once or cover with foil and leave in the warm oven (turned off) until ready to serve. Serves 8 to 10.

Note: The 10-minute assembly of the beans can be done a day ahead. Cover the dish and refrigerate until ready to bake. If you can stand the calories, throw a couple of bacon slices on top before baking. After baking, the beans can be frozen up to a month. Reheat in a 350-degree oven until heated through.

Approximate values per serving: 156 calories (3 percent from fat), 1 gram fat (0 gram saturated), 0 milligram cholesterol, 7 gram protein, 34 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams dietary fiber, 681 milligrams sodium.

Send us desperate tales of woe or everyday success stories and your favorite quick recipes to Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016; or e-mail: ddinners@aol.com.

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