Writer’s Column: In Memory of Soup Beans

Writer's Column
Robin H. Webb

There are few winter rituals that I enjoy more on a cold, dreary day than the tranquil process of preparing a savory batch of soup beans. Not to be confused with bean soup, soup beans are a time-treasured staple in the history of Appalachian cuisine, capable of transporting my heart to a simpler era when life moved at a slower pace, and gratitude was readily given for simple grace. Like a magical concoction, soup beans never fail to stir my soul.

The ingredients are humble; a mess of dried pinto beans, a bit of fatback or a ham hock to serve as seasoning, and a chunk of onion will produce a succulent meal fit for a king at the price of a pauper. A thick slice of freshly-baked cornbread or a few, fried johnny cakes doled alongside a piping-hot bowl of the hearty fare completes the dish, conjuring a nostalgic essense of days gone by.

My love affair with soup beans began long ago with a deliberate decision to embrace a life of minimalistic living. I often found myself yearning to lead an uncomplicated, yesteryear existence of “putting up and making do,” and that included altering my diet to follow suit.

soup beans magic

The mountains of southern Appalachia

Raised by a Georgia-native father who could whip up southern delicacies like the dickens, I was less than pleased as a choosy child when the primitive aroma of pinto beans would waft through the house. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that the basic recipe was much more than what it surface-seemed. Soup beans symbolize an unassuming way of life that is gradually fading with the turning of generations, a past that I hold dear and aim to honor with each rich batch that I prepare.

While there are delicious variations available, my “hand-me-down” recipes are as follows…

Simple Appalachian Soup Beans:
Soak dried pinto beans overnight in a bowl of water. Drain and rinse. Cover with fresh water in a large pot, adding a hamhock or a slice of pork fatback, and diced onion to taste. Do not add salt as it may toughen the beans as they cook. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover, simmering for two hours or longer, adding additional water as needed. Season with salt and pepper (or perhaps a splash of hot sauce) as desired before serving. Top with raw, diced onion, and a side of fresh cornbread or johnny cakes to soak up the pot likker, commonly known as broth.
(Note: A tangy relish known as “chow chow” is often served with soup beans.)

Southern Johnny Cakes:
2 c. stone-ground cornmeal
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tsp. salt
1 c. whole milk
2 Tbsp. boiling water
Cream the cornmeal, buter and salt together. Add the milk with enough boiling water to make a moist, yet firm, batter. Drop by large spoonfuls onto a hot, greased griddle, flattening the batter with the back of a spoon. Fry until a golden brown, turning once to repeat.

Do you have a treasured tradition that you would like to see featured in a future article? If so, email Robin@FetchYourNews.com



Robin H. Webb

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