There is nothing that speaks to a southerner’s stomach like the smell of a pot of pinto beans and a fresh hot slab of cornbread.
It is a meal in itself – aside from a little ham or salt pork in the pot, no meat is even required. And around here, you can forget the cans and little bags of muffin mix — for serious ‘pintos-n-cornbread’ eaters in Alabama, only fresh or dried beans and homemade bread will get the job done.
Pintos and cornbread have been a huge part of the southern fare longer than most can remember, and here is one reason why:
Back in the days of the depression, most farm families did what they could to get by. Beans were cheap and easy to come by. They store almost indefinitely when dried and keep very well. After a hard day in the fields, it was a good filling protein-rich meal that cost very little to put on the table. It was pretty much all folks had and that was that.
“I lived through the Depression on a farm in the south,” says Bev Whitt of Henagar. “Back then, if we had beans and cornbread, we were doing good. Momma had a cast iron kettle with legs on it that sat right down on the fire in the fireplace. She’d cook the beans all day and when our work was done in the fields, we’d have fresh cornbread that she had made in our woodstove. It was delicious.”
Over the years, pintos and cornbread just became a part of the south. Even when foods became more commercialized and available, pintos and cornbread remained good comfort food. And it was still cheap.
Whitt has come up in the world since those days of her childhood, with a beautiful modern home and all of the conveniences of a great kitchen. But she still uses her cast iron skillet to make her delicious cornbread and her mother’s simple recipe for cooking pinto beans.
“I just soak the beans in water and refrigerate them overnight,” she says. “The next day I drain the water and replace it. Then I just add a tablespoon of salt and a little salt pork or bacon and cook them on low heat all day. I add more water throughout the day to keep them from drying out.”
When the beans are finally done, there are more than a few ways to enjoy them.
While most of the older folks like to top theirs with freshly chopped onion and a heavy dose of pepper sauce, some of the younger generation has discovered that pintos and cornbread, like most everything else, go really good with cheese.
Then too, there are the bacon lovers, the ketchup lovers, and believe it or not, the sour cream lovers.
However you enjoy them, go ahead and have a bowl this Sunday — they really are a taste of the south for your mouth.