Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Pinto Beans & Fried Corn Bread - Southern Family Cooking

Beans, beans, good for the heart - the more you eat the more you....wish you had corn bread, too.

Southern Pinto Beans & Fried Corn Bread

Okay, I figured I may as well just go there if I'm going to post a recipe for Southern Pinto Beans. If you've ever read my blog before you probably know by now, I grew up in the South (United States). It's a detail that, for years as a young actress in Hollywood, I tried to obliterate. I am told the only remnants of my "southern accent" show up when I've had quite a bit of wine, singing a song, saying the word- "poem", or I've talked to my mom on the phone for even a minute.It has been my profound awakening to come full circle and discover the most beautiful, successful and meaningful life is when I embrace my authentic and truthful self. Now, before I lose all foodie pals, cynics and recipe lovers - I'm almost through with the prophesying. This blog, for me, is becoming a place where my comedy background, insatiable curiosity, teaching, sometimes cloying way of being so earnest, sarcasm, appreciation for the planet/farmers/real food, and my thankfulness for my mom, my family, religion and my past is merging. I love it. I'm done.

Now - Beans and Cornbread!

This very simple recipe is from my mom, from her mom, and probably her mom before that. In the "dirt-street" neighborhood of my childhood there was a pot of these Pinto beans on the stove every week. My mom tells of growing up during the depression days with these for dinner almost every night (along with Turnip Greens). That kind of recipe testing is hard to come by, right?

Following the beans is a recipe for home-made fried cornbread for sopping-up the pot-liquor; thick pork & bean, salty/sweet gravy that is left over when the meaty, toothsome beans are long gone.

Dried Pinto Beans (about 3 cups make enough for 4-6 servings)
Pork Fat Back or Pork Belly

Many people soak their dried beans in water overnight (it is said to help decrease the gas forming sugars), but my grandmother's recipe evidently did NOT soak the beans (haha, which explains a lot; sorry, went there again.)PREP: Run water over the beans to wash thoroughly and remove any dirt/ floating beans or flecks of debris before starting to cook.

1) Fill a large pot with enough water to be about 5-6 inches above the amount of beans you are using.

2) Add the fat-back to the water, bring to a boil and continue to boil for about 15 minutes.

3) THEN, add the beans, add a little salt, bring the water back to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let cook for about 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Be sure to check the water level and add water only after the beans have soaked up a great deal of the liquid. The water should stay a few inches above the beans.

4) Stir now and then to make sure cooking is even. Taste to adjust the seasoning. Eventually, the water will be gravy-like. These are even better the next day after melding the flavors in the refrigerator overnight.
What is a pot of beans without corn bread?
When I went on a quest to discover and uncover my family's great traditional and secret recipe for amazing fried corn bread, I was confounded to find it came from a box of cornbread mix. Are you kidding me? For a few minutes I refused to believe my mom- it wasn't what I wanted to hear. I wanted to believe my maternal grandmother (who could make poinsettia bloom in the dead-end heat of August on her screened-in porch) would have scooped her own cornmeal. I imagined her maybe even grinding it herself from the dried Indian Summer corn that she grew in her garden out back, then mixing it with her bare hands. My mom, patiently, stayed with this story of "Barton's Cornmeal and now they use Martha Whites" which just frustrated me because it wasn't "corn meal" it was a prepared mix. Thinking over this was enlightening to me - my mom was a wife of the 50's, the very generation that got sold the idea of corporate fast, processed means convenience, why spend time in the kitchen, "almost homemade is good enough" message from "Made in America". Her first meal after a recently prescribed Colonoscopy was a giant ARBY's "looks like" roast beef sandwich on white bread because she loves them. I get it. I used to eat a Hardee's Husky Burger almost every day after school. It took years to develop a taste for beef that didn't have blood-sugar spikes built right in.
By the way, the corn bread mix isn't even all that processed and you still have to add your own buttermilk, eggs, onion, spices, etc.. if you want to make it truly to your tastes. So, why am I ranting? Because it's symbolic to where it all started.

My grandmother was the very woman they targeted with the idea that homemade was a waste of your time. In the 1940s, she probably did make everything from scratch. Then she got sold the idea that a large company could do it better than she could, faster, more consistent and that she didn't really need to READ the ingredients because her government already approved those for safe consumption. Then, they made it so cheap we all learned to de-value food for its quality. In school, my home-economics class (ever heard of those?) taught us how to make a "home-made" cake by using a Duncan Hines cake mix. It sounds like I'm an elitist, but I'm not - I'm just...frustrated, so I took it out on a bag of medium grind organic corn meal. I created my own version of my traditional southern fried cornbread with a nod to my memory of a ball of Crisco melting in a cast iron skillet. It tasted like my grandmother's - fantastic, the buttermilk makes it rich and tangy, but the bite is crunchy and nutty. I was really excited. My husband sopped up the pot-liquor while watching the Super Bowl (cue music: My Country Tis of Thee.) My teenage son said, "I kinda don't like the texture...I wish it was more cake like...not so real corn tasting" (cue trumpet: wha wha wha whaaaaaaa.) Life is funny, so you may as well laugh.

**Today's post about a Family Recipe was in celebration of a very talented writer, Cheryl Tan, who has her first food book being released today; A Tiger In The Kitchen. She collected her family recipes and stories and retold them in her incredibly experienced and delightful manner. Read about her here, and take a look at the book on Amazon right here-RECIPE: Fried Corn Bread

1 cup Med. grind Organic Corn Meal
1/2 cup Flour
1 egg

3/4 cup Buttermilk
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
2 Tbls. minced onion
1 Tbls. minced garlic
1 Tbls. Crisco or "Lard"
salt/pepper to taste

1) Combine all ingredients, except the Crisco, in a bowl, whisk together and leave for a few minutes so the cornmeal will soak up the buttermilk.

2) Melt the Crisco in a skillet (cast iron is preferred) over Med. heat. Drop small ladles of the batter onto the hot oil. When the edges are crisp, flip the cornbread over and continue to cook until browned and crispy on the other side.

3) Remove each piece as it's done and drain on a towel. Serve warm, and can be held in the refrigerator and toasted for later. (Also, very good when crumbled over scrambled eggs, soup or greens.)


Mai said...

Looks great. And thanks for the historical perspective. I would have been disappointed to if I found out something I loved came out of a factory.

In any case, thanks for taking that recipe and making it your own. I love cornbread!

Steff @ The Kitchen Trials said...

I love pinto beans and corn bread.

It's odd though. I've never thought to question my family's use of Jiffy Cornbread Mix, but the one time my mom suggested we used slice and bake cookies at the holidays, I nearly came unglued. I definitely draw the line at a cookie that would even think about competing for time with our homemade butter cookies.

Of course now, a few years later, I realize that homemade butter cookies for such a large crowd are a lot of work. Work that my Mom has now delegated to me... =)

linda said...

"Not so real corn tasting!" -

This made me laugh and feel your pain at the same time! What a delicious and beautiful post!

ATigerInTheKitchen said...

This looks so delicious! And I love the bit about you finding out about the mix. Too, too funny. Thanks for sharing the recipes! x

carole said...

i had a cow when i found out Mom's Sunday scalloped potatoes were really Betty Crocker's scalloped potatoes. and here i thought she was scraping her knuckles bloody for us!

Kaz said...

I am Australian and while visiting Montana in August I had some scrumptious "southern fried beans" with molasses. Absolutely delicious!

But you have a delightful [smile] way of presenting. So even though your recipe is not exactly what I was looking for - I shall try it !!
Thank you for sharing it !!

Anonymous said...

How much buttermilk?

showfoodchef said...

Thank you for your comments regarding the "missing" Buttermilk and I have updated the recipe. I appreciate you stopping by and letting me know about the recipe. I hope, so much, you enjoy making this. Cathy

Keena said...

Hi! How exactly do I get the thick juice?

showfoodchef said...

Hi Keena: The thicker liquid comes from the combination of the starch from the beans and letting it cook down a bit. If you have too much liquid, but the beans are just right, try spooning the beans out except about a cup of them and then increase heat and cook the liquid down for more time until it's soupy. It's not a creamy gravy, more like a "sopping" juice :D Now, I've made myself hungry, haha.

Anonymous said...

Surprised that you are using hydrogenated "Crisco" to fry your cornbread in. Hydrogenated lard is just as "bad" in my opinion and I use leaf lard that is not hydrogenated. It is natural and makes everything taste good. If you haven't heard about this, search for sources on the internet. Thanks for sharing your recipes. I grew up with beans and cornbread and still make my own from scratch, and most everything else as I don't like "processed".