Monday, January 05, 2015

Southern "Soup Beans" and Cornbread

Sometimes I get up early in the morning and put on a big pot of beans, just like my Mom used to do. They were our special meal and I still love them today. She would go out to her garden and pull up some spring onions and make a big cast iron skillet of cornbread to go with them. My Mom called them Soup beans. Soup beans is a term common in the Southern United States, particularly the regions around the Appalachian Mountains. It refers to pinto or other brown dried beans cooked with pork as flavoring. They are considered a main course in the south and in Appalachia where food was scarce during the winter, these beans were a staple food. I cook mine with ham hocks, bacon or "fat back" as my Mom used to refer to it. I also mix my beans ....a 1/2 bag of Pintos and a 1/2 bag of red kidney beans and the flavors are just perfect.

Southern "Soup Beans" and Cornbread

1/2 lb. pinto beans
1/2 lb. red kidney beans
6 cups water
2-3 meaty ham hocks, or a slab of fat back
4 slices of bacon, fried and chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Soak beans overnight if you have time. The next day, rinse and drain them and put them to a soup pot or dutch oven with your ham hocks, bacon, onion, and garlic. Do not salt at this point or it will make your beans tough. Add in 6 cups of water or enough to just cover the beans. Cover them and bring to a full boil for about 10 minutes. Then turn down the temperature and let them cook until tender–at least 3 hours in a simmering pot. Stir from time to time and add more water if necessary. You want the gravy to look thick like a stew and not thin like water.

Next, remove the ham hocks and place on a plate. Then shred the ham hocks and put them back in the pot. Add salt and pepper, and allow beans to continue to cook on low while you make your cornbread.

By the time your cornbread is ready, the bean liquid should have reduced to a thick broth. Ladle out the beans into wide shallow bowls, then top the beans with onions if desired. Serve with a big slice of corn bread.

Southern Cornbread                                                                      

1/4 cup of bacon drippings
1-1/2 cups regular yellow cornmeal (not self rising)
3 tablespoons of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
2 cups of buttermilk, more or less (see note on how to make your own buttermilk below)
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Add the bacon drippings to a 10-inch cast iron skillet and place the skillet into the oven to melt the fat and heat the skillet. You want it very hot but not smoking.

In a bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Carefully remove the skillet from the oven and swirl the hot fat around to coat the entire skillet. Pour the fat from the skillet into the cornmeal mixture; stir. Stir in half of the buttermilk and add the egg; add more buttermilk as needed to make a thick but pourable batter. Mix the ingredients but don't beat or over mix. Pour the cornmeal mixture into the hot skillet. You should hear it sizzle when it hits the skillet. Carefully place directly into the oven and bake at 450 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the skillet from the oven, let rest for 5 minutes, then very carefully turn the cornbread out onto a plate or platter to preserve that nice crispy crust!

 Pan Version: If you prefer to make this in a pan, just grease an 8 x 8 inch baking dish with vegetable shortening. Mix all of the ingredients together and pour into pan. Bake as above.

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