Monday, July 8, 2013

Classic Southern Pinto Beans

Classic Southern style pinto beans, stewed with salt pork and cayenne pepper and always served with a side of cornbread.

Classic Southern Pinto Beans

We'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 pickled onions and cornbread, corn muffins or cornmeal hoecakes on the side.

Cook's Notes: 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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©Deep South Dish
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Posted by on July 8, 2013

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  1. Pintos are a staple in Kentucky, but in my part we call them soup beans. I ate some white beans growing up, but 9 times out of 10 the beans on the table were pintos. Soup beans and cornbread is still one of my all-time favorite meals. I also use a little salt pork while I am cooking them, and I also use a little bacon grease in a hot skillet when I make my cornbread. I quit apologizing for adding flavor a long time ago. Nothing beats southern cooking!

    1. I hear ya Rhonda on that I quit apologizing thing. Bacon drippings add a lot of flavor!

  2. Sounds like good ole pintos to me. I posted about your bean medley today - I really liked them for Independence Day.

    1. Thank you Larry! That really means a lot to me. HUGS!!

  3. If salting beans at the beginning makes beans tough, then why does salty salt pork not do the same thing?

    1. Well Lisa... let's not be TOO literal here! ;) it doesn't always but I suggest not adding salt to beans in many cases - not all cases - until the end of the cooking process, especially when using salt pork! Does that help?

    2. It is a strange idea that I see over and over! If salt really did make beans tough then salt pork would be a disaster. Here is an exert from Cook's Illustrated where testing revealed that salt actually improves beans and pre-soaking in salt water makes them tasty and tender: "In recent testing, we’ve found that soaking dried beans in mineral-rich; hard tap water can toughen their skins. Some recipes recommend using distilled water to avoid this issue, but we’ve discovered a simpler solution: adding salt to the tap water, which prevents the magnesium and calcium in the water from binding to the cell walls, and it will also displace some of the minerals that occur naturally in the skins. We found that three tablespoons of salt per gallon of soaking water is enough to guarantee soft skins." Try it--I think you will like it! :)

    3. Thanks Lisa. I was already aware of the differing opinions on whether to salt or not, but this blog is about my own personal experiences with cooking, so I'm just speaking from that. Nothing is ever written in stone with cooking - even if you have a Test Kitchen - so YMMV of course :) though I appreciate your thoughts.

  4. I think it's rained daily for nearly 4 weeks here in GA, the ground is so soaked it's pulling up trees by the roots. Some good pintos nothing better, some good simple economical eats. My granny told me even if you are broke always have some dried beans and cornmeal handy you can eat like a King and fill your belly.

    1. I was actually worried about that myself Tracey! I have 9 water oaks in my yard and they have shallow roots anyway.

      I've never had a lot of money so we've always eaten a lot of beans. We love them though - probably a good thing!

  5. My mom had one of those two tone bacon grease holders too! I just use a jar but if I ever find one, I'm buying it.

    1. You know me Chris, I'm a bit of a vintage kinda gal!! ;)

  6. Don't forget a good soak on the beans that makes them good and tender when you cook :).

  7. I've soaked beans overnight, and I've followed the package directions for the "quick-cook" method as you described, but I just can't tell a difference between either of those and the way my mom cooked, them. She sorted, rinsed, but them in water, then just brought them to a boil. Once boiling, reduced to a simmer, and let 'em cook till they're done. We have to add water occasionally, but the taste and texture seems the same to me. Makes me wonder why no one ever describes cooking them using this method?

    1. I've pretty much used them all too Michael! The boil and soak and the soak overnight are what most people learned so is what I recommend in most of my recipes - that's not to say necessarily that I do that all the time myself! :) With some of the beans I don't bother. I do what your mom did. The soaking process softens them so skipping that means they usually will just take a little longer is all, especially if they are dried beans that have been hanging in the pantry awhile. I do find with pintos that they tend to be lighter in color when soaked and darker if they aren't.

  8. I have been reading everyone's comments on how they cook soup beans, I cook mine in a crock pot on the lowest setting and they turn out delicious.


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