Beans and cornbread are a great combination

October 9, 2013 

The combination of peas or beans and cornbread is so satisfying there are even songs written about it.

Jordan Louis wrote "Beans and Cornbread" in 1949 and much later the Carolina Chocolate Drops wrote "Cornbread and Butter Beans."

How many food combinations have their own songs?

The basic ingredient for the Southern masterpiece, corn, comes to us from the Native Americans. Peas and beans are grown around the world, but are also part of the Native American Three Sisters trilogy (corn, beans and squash), that are basic to that culinary tradition.

The Native Americans certainly had many recipes for fresh and dried corn, but European settlers who moved to the South had a go at making bread with dried, ground corn. From that we have spoon bread, hoe cake and hushpuppies, but no other corn meal-inspired dish is as popular as cornbread.

There are thousands of varieties of beans around the world, but a double handful are generally paired with cornbread in the South; black eyed peas, lima beans, butter beans, field peas, crowder peas, purple hull peas and pinto beans.

It is a point of some contention, and certainly purests will shudder at the thought, but you do not have to make beans from scratch for good results. Canned beans are quite good and only require that you wash off the goop (it contains way too much salt) and they are then ready to warm and serve. The prudent cook might want to sauté some onion and garlic, along with black pepper and red pepper

flakes, and then add some stock and a bit of ham, simmer for 30 minutes and then add the rinsed beans. It is a good shortcut to keep in mind.

If it has been a while since you treated your family to a supper of cornbread and beans, then the cool weather that is surely almost upon us just might convince you that now's the time to revive this great Southern comfort food.

BASIC CORNBREAD

3/4 cup self rising flour

3/4 cup corn meal

1/4 cup sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

3 teaspoons baking powder

2 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix all of the dry ingredients and then add the buttermilk and eggs, mix again. Pour into a hot skillet and bake for about 20 minutes. If you are not counting calories add several tablespoons of bacon grease to the pan and heat till its smoking, then add the mixture and bake.

BLACK EYED PEAS

When done correctly, this recipe is more of a stew than just a side dish. Use what vegetables and pork-like-something you like best and season aggressively.

16 ounces dried black-eyed peas

3 cups water

3 cups chicken stock

1 chopped onion

1 small chopped bell pepper

6-8 (1-inch) cubes of pumpkin

3-4 chopped cloves of garlic

2 cups smoked ham, cut into bite size cubes

Salt and pepper to taste

Chopped jalapeno pepper is optional

Wash the beans and soak in water overnight. Take the beans out of the refrigerators an hour before you are ready to cook, drain and allow to come to room temperature. Sauté the cubed ham in oil, remembering to season with black pepper and red pepper flakes, until they start to take on color and become fragrant, remove and set aside. Add the onion and bell pepper to the same pan, add more oil if necessary, and cook for 6 minutes, add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Now add the beans, stock and water to a large, deep pot and simmer until tender, about one and one half hour. Add the pumpkin 10 minutes before the beans are ready. Remember to taste every once in a while and re-season as necessary.

DEEP FRIED BLACK-EYED PEAS

1 pound dried black-eyed peas

1 chopped onion

2 bay leaves

1 diced jalapeño

Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning

Black pepper

Soak the beans in water overnight. Drain the peas, cover with water by about 3 inches and add the onion, bay leaf and jalapeño and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 40 minutes, or until they are tender. When they are done, drain and spread out of a kitchen towel to dry (if you want to hurry up the process put a small fan on them). Heat oil in a large sauté pan to about 375 degrees and fry the beans until crispy, it shouldn't take long, 3-4 minutes should do it. Season with Tony's and black pepper and serve hot.

CHOW-CHOW

Nothing goes better with cornbread and beans than an Old South chow-chow. Its quick and easy to make and keeps forever in the refrigerator. Some people call this chili sauce, but whatever the name it is really good.

1 large can whole tomatoes

1 chopped onion

1 cup sugar

3/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1-2 cloves

1-2 hot peppers

Combine all the ingredients and simmer until thick and the juice cooks down. Stir constantly so that it does not burn. When cool put in a sealable jar and refrigerate until ready to use.

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