Thursday, November 18, 2010


One of my very favorite childhood memories is of Aunt Lou's store---the flappy-screen door with the faded Nehi sign, mistily visible after the thousands of hands opening and slamming to the tinkle of the tiny bell above. The foot-faded old green linoleum, the big shining glass cases of candy and notions and everything from #1.25 eyeglasses to single, unwrapped nipples with little side-flaps to fit onto a Coke bottle for those babies whose families' sparse income was doled out for flour and lard and beans.

And the BEANS---OH, how I LOVED the beans. All the cases were to your right as you entered the door, forming a second, enticing wall in front of the ceiling-high shelves of other goods, with just enough of a passageway for Aunt Lu or Uncle Jake to wedge their spare forms into, reaching high with what I still think of as the "grabber" to bring down a can of this, a box of that.

But in FRONT of the cases were the bolted-on half-barrels of beans. That row of about six immense tubs hung at a kid's temptation level, filled with the several kinds of dried beans and peas which made up such a staple of the local diet. Each big wooden tub was white-painted, and held a huge silvery scoop for filling bags and pokes of the beans---from pintos to Northerns to navies to black-eyes.

And each scoop, two-hands-heavy, held all the allure of a new train set or a baby doll with that enchanting, suck-your-lungs-full, new-doll smell, like not being able to chew that first taste of Fleer's s-l-o-w-l-y, for the avid gulps of the sweetness were irresistible. The days before Legos were ripe for small things to stir and run your fingers through, and nobody ever seemed to mind that every kid in town had probably touched their dinner at one time or another
. It was so lovely to reach FARfar into the cool depths of the bean-tubs, digging for treasure, hoping for reward---the entire reward being the DOING of the thing. We entertained ourselves endlessly, blocking passage of the customers entering and leaving, hampering commerce, I'm sure, for the aisles of that place were cramped even to a child, with the great heaps and variety of the merchandise.

Just pouring out scoop after scoop, hearing the little glisssss of the falling beans, like water upon rocks, was a wonderful thing. And the colors and shapes were so hypnotic, as the cascade descended time after time, to be enveloped back into the whole the way fudge circles from the spoon and disappears into the pot when it's almost done. Perhaps the entire allowing of the thing hinged on the fact that we DID adhere to the one unbreakable Rule, heard on every entering of the store. We expected it like Pavlov's dogs, immediately after the jingling of the bell: Uncle Jake's DEEP, stern voice, in its
everyday sepulchral tones, would rumble up from somewhere to the side or front of the store, admonishing for the thousandth time: DON'T MIX THE BEANS. And we never did.

We'd eaten quite a few of all kinds, already as children---they were an absolute staple in that part of the South, and though we had lots of fresh peas and beans from our own gardens, even in Summer the bowls of Pintos, filled with the good pink hunks of ham, or Northerns, with a little hand of fatback, or navies, with a bit of bell pepper and a lot of onion cooked in, were on every table.

And in Winter---almost every house had the scent of long-cooking beans on the stove, especially on Washday---Monday---much like the Red-Beans-And-Rice traditions of New Orleans.

And we like them still. They are our Christmas Eve Supper, from I can't remember when---many years now, a simple, humble supper with cornbread and slaw, for they are such a contrast to all the traditional dressing and turkey and sides the next day.

We just had a good pot the other night, made with the last of the Halloween Hambone. I hadn't even thought of it when I was uploading the pictures, but I was having a little bowl of leftover beans, with a good shake of L&P and even heartier shake of Louisiana Hot Sauce. Nice lunch on a cool day, with lots to do.

To cook the pot of beans, you always "pick over" the dry beans from the bag. It is not at all uncommon to find a tiny stone, shaped and sized much like the beans, which would wreak havoc with anyone's dinner enjoyment, and I hardly ever fail to find one tee-ninecy bit of dirt, the size of a matchhead, which is disguised in the DRY, but shows up deep gray when wet, and will go swirling down the drain. This one happened to be a 24 ounce bag, and made a BIG pot of beans.

Pick over, wash, and then set to soak overnight in cold water to cover by several inches:

In the morning, rinse in colander again, put into deep heavy soup pot, nestle in that big hambone, and cover a couple of inches with cold water. You can put in whatever seasonings you like, but it's a widely held theory that EARLY SALT will make the beans tough. I act accordingly, and salt them only after they've cooked several hours, and are almost mooshily tender. Bring to a boil, skim or not as you see fit, then lower to a bare simmer and cook for three or four hours. You can start them with loads of chopped onion, bell pepper, herbs you like, dashes of L&P and hot sauce, a good bit of sugar, and then just let them do their thing while you go do your own stuff. It's just nice t0 know that things are progressing, and beans do progress, turning from a couple of cups of little hard stones to a gallon-and-a-half of such meaty, smushy goodness that you'll crave them every night.
Beans, cooked four hours, with the hambone removed when it falls off the bone. Remove meat to a platter, remove all fat and gristle, then chop or pull the tender ham into tiny pieces, just right for a spoonful of beans and ham in every bite. Salt them now, then simmer maybe another twenty minutes to incorporate the salt into the beans.

See the difference in depth between this picture and the one above? That's about how much they will cook down, with the beans swelling and taking up a great lot of the liquid . If you need to add water, add some from a boiling kettle, or from the hottest run from the faucet, for sometimes a dash of cold seems to make the skins come off the beans.
We had ours with some half-and-half cornbread---half well seasoned, with a can of drained Mexicorn, two seeded and chopped pickled jalapenos, a can of diced chiles, some green onion tops and several big handfuls of sharp cheese. The other half went into the pan plain, at first, for the little one and those who like theirs with a little honey or preserves for dessert. The plain batter was sorta herded back to the side after all the condiments were stirred into the fancy half. I don't think my flash went off for this picture, but it was golden, dense and wonderful bread.

We had it with Caro's Smush-lushus slaw, with several colors of peppers and a vinegar/Splenda dressing.

A bowl of flappy-limp elbow Mac & Cheese, for the Little One, and as though the carb count was below par.

And she provided dessert: We made Rice Krispie Squares earlier in the day, and she did a lot of the stirring---that child is a BORN stirrer, and keeps her one special "Fifi-Spoon" in the toybox for ready retrieval. Fifi is a little character in her favorite TV series, who tends her garden, but always with one small wooden spoon in the loop of her overalls.

The finished squares, displayed on a fancy pressed-glass fan, to befit their royalty:

She also garnished the dish, with her usual distribution of M&M's---one for you, one for me, retrieve the one for you, save it for me, munchmunch.
Hope this has made you hungry for some good HOME-COOKED PINTO BEANS!!


Chesapeake said...

Just takes me back! Most of our pinto beans were cooked with just a little side meat, and we did eat them with cornbread. There was usually piccalilli, chopped onions and mayonnaise on the table to be mixed with the beans, although the adults would forgo the onions if there was a meeting that evening. As usual, Rachel, thanks for the memories.

racheld said...

Chesapeake, Darlin' Dear!!

I have three new books---just arrived. More in e-mail.

love and,

Kat said...

Stop it sweet friend. Please. You have me "hankering" for a bowl of those beans and ham and some cornbread slathered in butter with a slice of onion and some sweet tea.! I would give a lot to have some for my dinner's chilly here.

Big hugs,

Chesapeake said...

Oh, my, did I manage to surprise you? For once?

Do enjoy them!

Southern Lady said...

Oh, my goodness, Rachel ... my mouth is watering for some of those beans and cornbread and a bite or two of Sweetpea's macaroni and cheese. In fact, that sounds like a perfect menu for this weekend when we'll be at my mama's house. I'm going to go buy the beans and "fixins'" tomorrow!

Beverly said...

My husband is the bean lover in our home. That man love a bowl of beans and some delicious cornbread.

You have inspired me to prepare this for him very soon.♥♥♥

Patsy said...

What great memories of my childhood you brought back to me.

Kim Shook said...

I love the word ‘glisssss’ – I can HEAR it! The Bear has promised me a hambone leftover from a ‘do’ at her office ‘with lots of meat’. I am picturing soupy pintos with onions and Cracker Barrel chow chow and a big pile of iron skillet corn bread!

Jeanne said...

Rachel, I LOVE pinto beans but I didn't grow up eating them. We had great northern beans. They were stored in big bags in the spare room upstairs in the old farmhouse we lived in until I was nine. My mom's family home. they were cooked with a ham bone too. Your story warms my heart with times like these.

Wishing you and yours a happy Thanksgiving with loved ones all around.
Warm Hugs, Jeanne