Monday, January 3, 2011

Making my Mamaw Proud

Today my dad came up to help take down our Christmas lights.  To show my appreciation, I decided to cook pinto beans and cornbread.  My dad is from Tennessee and that particular meal is his favorite.  It's something I ate many, many times growing up but have never attempted to make myself.  

So, I called my mom for the recipe.  Her response?  "There is no recipe."  Instead, here are her directions, exactly as I wrote them on a Post-It, with some notes in brackets to make it legible to everyone else:

Pinto Beans

Inspect [dry beans, then put in stock pot] & cover with water, boil for 5 min.
Cool & drain.
Fresh water to cover 4-5inches. [i.e., put back in stock pot with fresh water]
Add ham hock/meat, boil then cook on low.

Yep, that's it.  Unbelievably easy.  The best part is that the longer you cook them the better they get.  So put them on in the morning and let them cook all day on low until dinner.  I suppose you could put them in the crock pot as well, if you aren't going to be around to man the stove.

Mmm.... bacon fat!
In theory, you could make the beans without adding meat but it adds so much flavor that I don't recommend it.  I tried a little experiment and used bacon jam as my "meat".  I'd made several batches of the glorious stuff to give out as Christmas gifts and still have a couple jars in the fridge.  After I did the initial boil, I put the beans back in the pot with some bacon fat (saved from the bacon jam processing) and about a 1/2 pint of the bacon jam, sauteed it for just a bit, then poured in the water to start cooking.  The result was pretty damn amazing, if I do say so myself.

Growing up, pinto beans were always, I mean always, served with cornbread.  My dad brought me back one of my Mamaw's cookbooks after her passing, so I started there looking for a suitable (i.e., truly southern- no sugar, no extras) cornbread recipe.  No cornbread recipe, but I did find the most delightful inscription in the front of the book:
(That's right, it was a gift from her Home Ec teacher back in 1934!)
And when I flipped to the back, I found this:

At first I thought it was just Mamaw updating the book after getting married but then I noticed that she spelled our last name wrong.  Odd, no?  I like to think that she had just met the handsome boy who would someday be my Papaw and was scribbling her imaginary married name in her book before she knew how to spell it correctly.  It's a nice little fantasy.

Cornbread made the right way- more bacon fat
Anyhoo...  I eventually found this recipe from   It turned out a bit thinner/crispier than my mom usually makes because my cast iron skillet was bigger than what the recipe called for.  My dad told me this is actually how Mamaw used to make it, so I felt better.  It must have been spot-on, because he ate two helpings of beans and 1/4 of the cornbread.

I almost didn't post this final product picture because it just doesn't do justice to the beans.  They really are delicious- I promise!

Isa wanted me to take a picture of her plate as well.


  1. I just made this with our left over ham from Christmas. I threw the ham carcass in my big crock pot, added 2 cups of dry pinto beans, covered the beans with water plus an inch and let it cook on low all night. SOOOOO Yum. I'm going to try your cornbread recipe. I don't like sweet cornbread. I'm a huge fan of the real southern stuff.
    Nice work!

  2. I love cornbread slathered in butter and honey, so sweet or not, it's always tasty. At lunch the other day (at soul food) my friend and I were warned by our respective husbands to not take all the cornbread.... we did so a few years ago. Can't help it if they are too slow!
    Sounds so so yummy!

  3. I grew up on pinto beans and cornbread too. Yummy! My mom always used the crock-pot.

  4. I am literally drooling right now. Mmmm, pinto beans & cornbread . . . num nums.
    - Mollie