Wednesday, May 21, 2014

An Appalachian Tale : Beans and Taters, Taters and Beans

Earlier today, while browsing the internet, I read an article about pinto beans. Specifically, about pinto beans and their traditional front and center place on the dinner table in this region. As is wont to happen with me, a cascade of thoughts and memories started tumbling through my brain. 

We ate dried beans frequently, and by frequently I mean as many as four times a week, when I was growing up. I say dried beans because we did not just eat pinto beans. We ate October beans, Cranberry beans, and lastly Pinto Beans. We called them soup beans, or brown beans. We also ate navy(white) beans, Lima (butter) beans, split pea soup, baked beans, and kidney beans. But most of all and by far, we ate brown beans. The October and Cranberry beans were preferred because the soup/liquid was thicker the day they were cooked. This was important because we usually did not have leftovers.

Mom would task the children, Carol, Eddie, and me, with sorting the beans (we called it picking them) to separate any debris. They were then rinsed well, under cold running water, and left to soak overnight. Before she started working full time, Mom would cook the beans low and slow all day. She used a chunk of streaked lean to season them, and a bit of salt. Salt was added after the beans had cooked for a while, and the amount would depend on the saltiness of the streaked lean she used. Periodically throughout the day she would check the simmering pot of beans, adding more water as needed. There were times when she cooked the beans in a pressure cooker, but for the most part they were cooked in a big pot on the stove. It takes hours to cook beans correctly, a slow process of at least 6 hours. We tried a slow cooker, aka a CrockPot as well, but that left you with a watery broth with little flavor. I think the gradual adding of the water throughout the day gives the melding and blending of flavors time to develop better.

Daddy grew October beans in the garden, and Mom would can quarts of fresh October beans that were ready to reheat, adding your seasoning, when pressed for time. They were really tasty. We never bought canned Pinto beans from the store, like Luck's. We either cooked them from dried or fresh or used home canned beans. 

After I was grown and had my own kitchen, I experimented with added seasonings for beans. A splash of hot sauce and about a tablespoon of brown sugar added to a pot of beans near the end of cooking is my favorite addition. I also sometimes use a seasoning blend, like Lawry's seasoned salt, Jane's Krazy Mixed-up Salt, Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning, or Old Bay Seasoning. 

So, after you have your pot of brown beans what else are you going to eat? Decisions, decisions. Mom would often serve Kraut and Weiners. What? You don't know Kraut and Weiners? Easy. Get yourself an iron skillet, add a spoon of bacon drippings, and a package of weiners you have sliced into half inch rounds. Once they have started to puff up and get a little brown, add a bag of sauerkraut from the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Not canned sauerkraut, and not the type with caraway seeds in it. Just plain kraut. Cook until the liquid is almost all gone. No need to salt or pepper this. 

Another, and, in my mountain raised opinion, the best accompaniment to brown beans is fried potatoes. Taters. The food that I grew up on. Fried, baked, boiled, mashed, creamed - Oh how I love potatoes. Fried taters are so easy. Hot skillet, bacon grease and butter, sliced potatoes, turn often, cover at first to cook faster, salt and pepper to taste, let them brown, turn them easy so they don't all break apart, add sliced or diced onion at the end so they don't burn. 

Slaw. Coleslaw. Shredded cabbage, a bit of shredded carrot. Dressing? Get a pint jar with a lid. Fill it about 3/4 full of mayonnaise, add 2 tablespoons of white sugar, 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar, a good squirt of French's mustard, 1 teaspoon of celery seed, a shake of salt and three or four grinds of fresh pepper. Put the lid on the jar and shake it well. This is a multi-purpose dressing, good on slaw, potato salad, macaroni salad, a dab for devilled egg filling. 

Meatloaf. When I make meatloaf, I use the leanest ground beef I can find. The most mess free way to make meatloaf is to add the ground meat (I only use beef) into a gallon size zip-lock freezer bag, add the other ingredients, close the top securely, knead it together with your hands, then turn it out into your baking dish. I take two eggs for about 3 pounds of beef, break them into a 2-cup measuring cup and use a fork to beat them enough to break the yolks. I then squirt in maybe 1/3 cup of catsup, add about the same amount of milk, a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce, and a good healthy dollop of either Heinz 57, Chili Sauce or A-1 sauce. I mix this together and pour it in the bag with the meat. I then add minced onion, minced green bell pepper if I have any, and about 2/3 cup of oatmeal (uncooked), torn white bread or bread crumbs. The catsup and steak sauce should keep you from needing salt or pepper, but you can add some if you want. Bake at 350f for about an hour, top the last 15 minutes with a glaze of catsup and brown sugar if you want. Sometimes I make large patties of the meatloaf mixture and we have meatloaf patties. Easier for leftovers that way.

Bread. I prefer cornbread with beans, but plain sliced white bread will do in a pinch. I also like biscuits with beans, big fluffy drop biscuits. Cornbread is a personal choice, some use the boxes of Jiffy Mix, I like Martha White Buttermilk Cornbread mix. I like it baked in an iron skillet, I have one of those sectioned cast iron pans that makes individual little triangles, lots of crust that way!

Fresh green onions from the garden, or sliced Vidalia onion. Sliced tomatoes. Sweet pickle relish, green tomato relish or chow-chow. 

Beans and taters, taters and beans - My ideal menu is:

Brown Beans w/green tomato relish
Fried Potatoes w/onion
Sliced garden-fresh tomato
Green onion from the garden
Cornbread w/butter and honey
Iced Tea 
Pound Cake w/fruit 
Vanilla Ice Cream

Hungry yet????


  1. I am now hungry, reading today's instalement. I love your take on sharing a story. You really get me going to want beans. Sadly my mate does not like beans other than green beans. I think that is rather odd. He claims he was fed beans as a child so much, he just grew to hate them. Myself originally from up north didn't really eat beans until moving here. I think you said it best with what beans might actually mean to the world, especially regionally. I have never done some of the experimenting that you have, but your recipes for beans sound great. Thanks for writing such a story this time.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting. Ben Cooker. I went through a phase of not wanting beans, until I moved to Florida. I associated brown beans with home, comfort food, and soon started cooking them as a soul food. I associated the beans with happy family times. Perhaps your partner has unhappy childhood memories the food triggers? Just a thought.