Dorcas Annette Walker
I thought I’d start the New Year out with a main dish that every southerner is born and raised on. It wasn’t until I came south that I had my first taste of Pinto Beans and cornbread. I’ll have to confess that it took me awhile to appreciate this southern staple that appeared regularly at every meal my husband (the new preacher) and I were invited to. Even though I realized that Pinto Beans are nutritious, high in protein and fiber, I was puzzled by the enthusiasm this dish automatically created at the mere mention of its name. A greater shock was seeing mountain mothers’ mash up cooked Pinto Beans and feed to their infants. I began asking questions and learned that Pinto Beans was one main staple that kept folk from starvation during the Civil War and the long years that followed its massive destruction in the south.
I had thought I had grown up poor, but now I was confronted with stories of real poverty. Girls my age confessed that as a child they were so poor they didn’t own a toothbrush. They would go out into the woods and use the tender branches of a bush to clean their teeth. When I worked at the local hospital invariable during the winter months talk would start among the staff about not being able to wait until having the first taste of fresh cooked cabbage. Even young girls waxed enthusiastic. Personally I wondered what on earth was so great about cooked cabbage until I realized that after long winter months of eating only beans and cornbread fresh garden produce was indeed a cause for celebration.
While the South uses Pinto Beans up North white, navy or great northern beans are used to make bean soup. For over a century bean soup has been a traditionally featured item in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate restaurants every day. One story says that the Senate bean soup tradition began early in the 20th century at the request of Senator Fred Dubois of Idaho while another credits Senator Knute Nelson of Minnesota in 1903.
My Pinto Bean recipe can be adapted for cooking in a crock pot as well as on the stove. Pinto Beans and cornbread make an excellent nourishing winter meal. You can find my southern cornbread recipe on my Creative Mountain Cookin blog. The secret to good southern Pinto Beans is slow cooking. You can adjust how soupy or thick you want your beans to be by cooking longer or adding more water. My Pinto Beans takes at least four hours of cooking time- it can be left simmering on the stove all day long- and this recipe serves eighteen. Leftovers can be frozen for another day.
Soak a 32 oz bag of pinto beans overnight in a large bowl of water. Rinse beans and put into a large kettle.
meaty hambone or hunk of pork fat (fat back)
one large onion chopped
1 tb salt
1 tsp baking soda
Fill the kettle with water and bring to a rolling boil. Turn the heat down to maintain a slow boil and cook for four hours stirring frequently. Serve hot with cornbread and onions!
Weekly tip: You can thicken soups by adding a couple tablespoons of oatmeal, instant potatoes, barley, or rice when cooking, which also adds richness and flavor!