Posted by: ktzefr | March 15, 2012

Soup beans and cornbread and…chilaquiles

When we played hide and seek I hid in the beans.  My parents ran a small grocery store in the country and we always kept a big aluminum can full of pinto beans for sale.  Customers didn’t know, of course, that I occasionally slipped off my shoes and shimmied down inside the can, easing the lid back into place over my head.   I had to give up the hiding spot each time my dad got a new shipment and filled the can.  But people in our neck of the woods bought lots of beans, so it was never long before there was enough space, again, for a kid to hide.

Everybody cooked pinto beans — or soup beans, as we called them.  Soup beans and cornbread.  A pot was made substantially better when cooked with a ham hock.  And, if your Momma could make good cornbread, as mine could, you were more than lucky.  Good bread was referred to as a “pone of cornbread” and the real deal was always baked in a cast iron skillet.

The night before my mom cooked a pot of beans we had to “look” them and remove any cracked beans or bits of  stone.  Then they were covered with water and soaked overnight and simmered for hours the next day.  The only place I’ve been, other than the Kentucky hills, where pinto beans are a popular main dish is Mexico.  On a recent trip we had pintos in one form or another every day and at most meals.  Although in Kentucky we never ate soup beans for breakfast, beans for breakfast is common in Mexico.  And what a treat!

As I was writing this post I decided to check through some of my Kentucky cookbooks for an authentic soup bean recipe, but I was surprised to find that none of the cookbooks I own have recipes for pinto beans (perhaps the most popular, most-often-eaten dish in eastern Kentucky) — except a couple of  odd bean dishes that didn’t sound good at all (soup bean cake being one of them).  There were plenty of recipes for dishes I don’t recall ever eating in anyone’s home in  Kentucky, including crepe suzettes and chop suey and risotto (made with regular rice, rather than the required arborio; I’m not sure how that works).  If I didn’t know better, I’d think people in Kentucky had quit eating soup beans.  But I know better.

So…I googled.  I found one recipe that looks about right (minus the onions and garlic, which I don’t recall anyone putting in their beans, but maybe that’s a new thing). 

Check out these Pinto Beans and Ham Hocks

And here is a pretty good Southern Skillet Cornbread recipe

Some of my favorite south-of-the-border recipes with beans are at the following links:

Chilaquiles (Chee-lah-KEE-less) served with pinto or refried beans — so much better than nachos!

Huevos rancheros  eggs and beans and the works.

Bolillos can be hollowed out and stuffed with beans, lettuce, tomatoes, meat, cheese, avocado…whatever; one of my favorite Mexican breads.

Sope  I love sopes!  If you scroll down to the end of the recipe and click on “topping ideas” you’ll see all of the wonderful things you can stuff into a sope.


…and this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what you can do with pinto beans!

If anyone has a favorite family recipe for soup beans, let me know.  I think maybe they just taste better in the hills.  Likewise, it’s not easy to find authentic Mexican dishes except in Mexico.  Maybe there’s more to the eating “experience” than just a pot full of beans. 




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