Saturday, September 24, 2016

Grandma's Pinto Beans

Grandma (my Mom) cooked on a wood stove for most of her life. A very common meal was pinto beans, fried potatoes, corn bread, home made cottage cheese and wild greens, all washed down with sweet iced tea. It makes my mouth water even now.

When soaked in water or cooked, pinto beans swell to two to three times their size, so keep that in mind when deciding how many to prepare. It takes several hours to cook them, but how long depends on your altitude and the age of the beans. High altitudes can mean cooking them all day, while if you're close to sea level, they will be done in a couple of hours.

If you buy pinto beans from a local regular grocery store, the chances are that they are at least a year old and often older than that. They will be fine once cooked, but they will take longer to cook than fresh beans. If you can buy pinto beans from a farmer, do it! Also, most of the time, organic pinto beans are fresh, at least within a year of being picked, and of better quality than grocery store beans. The price isn't that much higher, so they're well worth a few cents more. If you have a choice, look for bright, clear colors and beans that are pleasantly firm but not rock hard. Those are the freshest.

Here's what you'll need:

Ham, ham hocks, bacon or turkey equivalent with smoked seasoning

Look through the beans and remove any stray rocks or seeds and any shriveled beans or any that have black spots or are deep brown. Broken beans are fine. Rinse them thoroughly, then put them into a large pot. Cover them with cold water, making sure there are at least three inches of water above the beans, then bring them to a boil. Turn off the heat, check the water level and let them set overnight. You won't have to refrigerate them; just leave them in the water in the pot.

In the morning, drain off the soak water (use it in the garden or to water house plants) and replace it with cold, fresh water. Put the pinto beans back on the stove, bring to a good, rolling boil, then turn down the heat until they are at a brisk simmer. Put a lid on the pot and let them cook, but keep an eye on them and replace water as it's needed.

When the pinto beans are about half way done, add seasoning meat. Bacon, ham hocks or pieces of ham have some salt in them so don't add them too early in the cooking process or the beans will be tough no matter how long you cook them. Don't add salt at all until the beans are done.

When everything seems cooked and tender, let it cook another half hour or so. At this point, add salt to taste and Mom's secret ingredient: A tablespoon of sugar. If you let the beans set another 15 to 20 mminutes before serving, so much the better. You can put the cornbread in the oven and when it's done, the beans will be ready.

Serve with cornbread, fried potatoes or hashbrowns and cooked greens of your choice. Radishes and green onions go well with pinto beans cooked this way.

How to eat leftover pinto beans

Pinto beans are even better the second day, but second helpings can be dressed up. too.

First, add cornbread to the beans, with plenty of the soup. Add chopped raw onions if you like. You can also add ketchup with or without the cornbread and onions.

If your family doesn't want to eat beans again, they freeze very well. Just make sure to have enough liquid to cover them.

You can also make refried beans with them. Sautee onion and garlic in a skillet (cast iron if you have it), then add drained beans, mash lightly and heat through.


Pinto beans are low on the glycemic scale and are a good source of fiber. They provide a variety of minerals, including manganese, magnesium and potassium, are also a good source of several vitamins, including folate and Vitamin K. If you eat cornbread or another type of corn with pinto beans, you are providing your body with a complete protein.

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