|Classic Southern style pinto beans, stewed with salt pork and cayenne pepper and always served with a side of cornbread.|
Classic Southern Pinto BeansWe've had so many days of rain now that I've literally lost count, and according to our weatherman, there's more to come this week. Generally speaking, I don't mind the rain at all, well, so long as I don't have to drive anywhere in it at least. It's relaxing and cleansing, sort of washing away the world's residue and making everything fresh once it moves along.
I love the sound of the rain falling steadily against a window or spattering across a tin roof, and it's a good a reason as any on a Sunday afternoon to take in a marathon of old movies. Or a nap. Write a few new recipes and take my own sweet time in the kitchen. All of which I managed to do. After days and days of being waterlogged though, it does get a little tiring. Being wet is one of my least favorite things in the world, but then again, so is oppressive heat and at least we've gotten a little break from that.
Was a good enough reason to make a pot of beans and cornbread too if you ask me. Red kidney beans and white beans are the beans of choice down here in my part of the Deep South, much more so than pinto beans ever will be. I've prepared pintos before in the Deep South tradition, using a semi-Trinity, letting jalapenos stand in for the typical green sweet bell pepper, and seasoning with ham, bacon or the andouille smoked sausage that we love so much here. They're delicious... but they aren't what most folks in other areas of The South would call classic Southern pintos. These are, and they are delicious.
In some areas of the South, particularly in the Appalachian regions, these are referred to as soup beans. Not bean soup, but soup beans. Nobody has been quite able to explain why they are called soup beans and I have seen recipes from that area that are both similar to and very different from these. I guess like most all recipes, there are a multitude of variations in ways that folks make them.
Since pinto beans are the beans most often used in the Appalachians, most recipes do use pintos, though there are others that use some butter beans or some form of white bean such as navy or great Northern, and some even southern peas, like black-eyed peas. While pintos are probably the most traditional bean in soup beans, it appears that soup beans may also refer to any kind of bean prepared this way. From there the beans are usually cooked down with some form of pork - ham bone, hocks, fatback, salt pork, bacon, smoked sausage and maybe a mirepoix of vegetables. Soup beans are often served with chopped raw onion, pickled onion or even sweet pepper relish and always, cornbread.
Since I like to use salt pork, I don't season them except for a little bit of plain cayenne until after they cook. Because salt can make for tough beans if introduced too early, save the Cajun seasoning for the end when they are done. Give them a taste and add in a little salt and pepper then too, if it needs it.
I also like to stir in a little bacon drippings from my little vintage grease pot I keep in the fridge.
Even if you don't eat a lot of bacon, you should be saving those drippings because over time they will accumulate and there are many ways to use them. I keep mine in the fridge, just to keep it fresh since I don't use the drippings that often to keep it out on the counter. If you're not one to keep drippings though, butter is a perfectly acceptable stand-in, but don't be tempted to skip that step, because I find it makes a definite difference in the richness of the beans.
Here's how to make them.
Recipe: Classic Southern Pinto Beans©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
Prep time: 10 min |Cook time: 2 hours | Yield: About 4 to 6 servings
- 1 pound of dry pinto beans
- 6 ounces of salt pork, diced
- 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon of bacon drippings or butter
- Salt, black pepper and Cajun seasoning, to taste, as needed
Rinse, drain and pick through beans for stones or debris. Soak overnight covered with 8 cups of water, or use the quick cook method below. Drain, rinse and return to the pot. Cover with 8 cups of fresh water. Add the salt pork, onion and cayenne; bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, and cook uncovered for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, or until thickened and creamy. Do not allow to boil.
Stir in the bacon fat or butter, taste and season as needed with salt, pepper and Cajun seasoning. Serve as is, or over hot, steamed rice, with raw or pickled onions and cornbread, corn muffins or cornmeal hoecakes on the side.
Cook's Note: Add in some diced smoked ham if you have some on hand.
Quick Cook: Rinse and sort beans. Cover with 8 cups of water and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, remove from heat, cover and let sit for 1 hour.
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