Bertram Picou is a character in my novel Big Easy. Like many Southerners, Bertram Picou served in the Army and did his basic training at Fort Polk in Leesville, Louisiana. The Fort is the subject of Tigerland, a gritty but powerful movie starring Colin Farrell. It’s probably the best movie Farrell ever did and you might want to check it out. Anyway, the place was a hell hole and some say the chances of becoming killed or wounded were greater there than in Vietnam.
Rutted dirt roads, tracts of heavily forested land that had never seen a chain saw, miles of seemingly endless rifle ranges, and swamps so murky and misty that they looked like the backdrop of a Lon Chaney horror film, comprised Fort Polk. Alligators, armadillos, water moccasins and frightened, pissed-off young G.I.’s, soon to be bound for Vietnam, populated the musty old Fort where fever and meningitus were everyday occurrences.
And it was hot and humid! The World War II-vintage barracks had no air conditioning in the summer and little insulation in the winter. A soldier’s day started at 4:30 AM with thirty minutes of physical training before breakfast. This was followed by more PT, a one to seven mile hike to the rifle range, orientation, target practice, a one to seven mile hike back to the barracks, more PT, then bed. Bertram lost forty-six pounds in six weeks at Fort Polk.
Some of the drill sergeants were mean, some practically psychotic. Nice wasn’t in their vocabulary. Bertram is the personification of the term laid-back, but two words can still evoke memories of distress and instantly raise his blood pressure and heart rate. Those two words — grease trap! If you ever spent any time in the Army, you probably know what I mean.
Food in the mess halls was simple but filling. All you could eat in fifteen minutes or so. They served red beans in abundance, and rice. Problem was, not together. Army regulation said you can’t have two starches on one plate. Good idea for the Army, bad idea for Bertram Picou who thinks RB&R should be part of the Government’s food pyramid (or whatever shape it is now!)
Bertram breathed a large sigh of relief when he finally got out of the Army. He cooks RB&R almost everyday at his bar on Chartres Street in New Orleans French Quarter and here is his personal recipe.
1 ½ lbs. dry red beans
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
½ green pepper, diced
1 red onion, sliced
½ tbsp. oil
10 c. water
1 veg. bouillon cube
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 ½ c. rice
3 c. water for rice
Soak beans overnight. Saute garlic, red onion, green pepper, celery in oil in large pot. Add 10 cups of water, vegetable bouillon cube, and beans. Let cook on medium flame until soft. Cook rice separately. When rice is done, serve topped with red beans.