In my humble opinion, there are few things more country and homey than a big pot of pinto beans…especially when they are done the right way. And yes, there are plenty of wrong ways to make this soul warming dish; Just ask my sweet husband who had tried them several times and still didn’t like them. At least until he tried mine that is.
Pinto beans take time, love, time, the right seasonings, time, the right meat (for non-vegetarians), and did I mention time? You just can’t rush through the process and expect them to turn out like they should. But then again, we can say that about most things in life.
I look around, especially on my drive home from “the city”, and see people rushing around and just flat out missing out on life. Slow down folks! If you continue rushing around and not taking the time to enjoy anything, then what’s the point of it all?
Now, back to the beans.
Let’s start by talking about the precooking processes. There have been many debates, some calmer and some more high spirited, about the precooking processes. I believe everyone will agree on the cleaning process. You want to dump your bag of dried beans into a bowl; I personally like using a strainer for this part for easier rinsing, so you can sort through them, removing any bad beans (or rocks as I used to call them when I was little). You don’t want anyone biting down on one of those. Then rinse the beans, see the strainer comes in handy, a couple of times in cool water.
The next step is where the debates usually start. To soak or not to soak the beans. Personally, I’m a soaker and always will be. My grandmother soaked hers, my mother soaks hers, and I will teach my children to soak theirs. If you don’t want to soak your beans, then that’s just fine as frog’s hair…it just won’t be OSC approved *wink*
To soak the beans, transfer them from the strainer to the pan you plan on cooking them in or the bowl of your choice. I like to use my handy dandy heavy stock pot aka my bean pot. Cover the beans with clean, room temp water. Don’t be surprised if you see a few floaters while the rest are settled at the bottom, this usually happens and is perfectly fine. You want to cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and leave it out on your counter, the top of a cold stove, etc. I prefer to leave mine soaking overnight, but sometimes the craving for pintos will hit and you don’t have the luxury of soaking them overnight. If this is the case, you’ll want to let them soak for at least 4 hours, but the longer the better.
After you have soaked the beans, you’ll want to drain them and cover with fresh water. Then you get to start on what my hubby calls “the good stuff”!
The following is what we use in our family, but this can be altered according to your taste and preferences. Also, the below is based on a one pound bag of dried beans.
1-1/2 pounds of country ham pieces/trimmings or cut up fatback pork
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper
1 large or two small onions, chopped
1 tablespoon of cooking grease, bacon grease, or if all else fails vegetable oil
Bring the pot of yumminess to a boil, stir, and let boil for 4-5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low/simmer, cover, and let the slow cook process begin. You’ll want to keep an eye on them by checking/stirring them every 20 minutes or so. You want to make sure there’s plenty of liquid, even though the juices will start to thicken making a yummy broth. You just don’t want them to get dry, because in addition to not having enough juice for cornbread soppin’, they will burn as well. Let’s just say burnt pinto beans is not what you want your house to smell like. Don’t be afraid to add small amounts of hot water as you go. Just remember that if you do, you may also need to adjust your seasonings as well.
You’ll cook the beans until they mush easily with the back of your spoon. I usually put them on late morning for dinner that night. Low and slow always yields the best results. Of course, taste test as you go so you’ll know if you need to adjust any of your seasonings. I usually end up adding more about half way through. As my grandmother taught me, you can always add seasoning as you go…you can’t take it back out.
When your beans are done, pair them with your favorite cornbread, a cold chunk of onion, and a glass of cold sweet tea. Best served around the table with friends, family, your spouse, and/or your favorite pooch. I even dare you to ask those around the table how their day was, what they’ve been up to, or if they chased any squirrels around today…the latter being for the pooch.
Happy Eating & Sharing!