I’m somewhat tired of reading and watching all this information concerning the shortage of toilet paper across this great nation. While the lack of the white stuff may be the result of hoarding, I’d like to talk about the lack of something else the vast majority of us hillbillies depend upon — pinto beans, and I don’t mean the canned Luck’s brand either.
When all of the coronavirus panicking first began and the Charmin disappeared like courthouse office holders when the FBI comes to town, I realized there were no bags of pinto beans on the shelves of any stores; not even navy or great-northern beans. It was then that I began to panic. The crisis was truly on.
Here’s something to think about. We all know that half-runner green beans are as important to a July 4th dinner as bananas are to a monkey. Nearly everyone also knows that half-runners are grown locally and throughout southern West Virginia. But, just where does all the pinto beans come from? And, why are they not grown on the local level, like half-runners, pole beans, October beans, etc.?
It’s been several years ago somewhere in a Kentucky store that I saw and purchased a couple packages of pinto bean seeds because I didn’t know the seeds were even sold. Well, it turns out the seeds are simply the beans that one might find in a grocery store that are used for cooking.
A little excited, I planted the beans in my small garden at the time and nurtured them to their maturity and the formation of the bean pods. The plants produced very well, but I wasn’t sure about whether I was to pick the beans and allow them to dry that way, or leave them on the vine to dry and harden. I chose to leave them on the vine and checked on them daily as the plants died.
After a few weeks went by, I picked those beans and shelled them to get to the seeds I intended on cooking. I don’t even know if you can eat the beans like other types, when they are green and frankly, I didn’t even care. I was just excited about having those fresh pintos.
I cooked them my usual way, including the use, of course, of salt pork. Surprisingly, the bean soup that formed was not brown like the usual stuff most of us have indulged in since childhood. Instead, the beans were a much lighter color than a regular cooked pinto bean.
I was a little disappointed and was afraid that all of my time and effort in planting, raising and then cooking these tender morsels might have been a waste of time and energy. Hallelujah! I was wrong.
After retrieving the cornbread from our oven, slicing a pungent onion, and washing off a fresh-picked red hot pepper, I sat down to indulge in my carefully contrived cuisine. There were no pork chops, fresh cooked greens, fried potatoes, or even kraut and wieners for this special event. I needed only the basics.
Those home grown pinto beans were delicious and the gaseous results were not nearly as distinct as in the normal consequence of having devoured the brown beans, which this time were not really brown.
So, why haven’t I continued to plant the seeds and harvest them since they are so much more delicious than the store bought ones?
The truth is that just to get a little over a pound of be beans, it took too many plants to get enough pods to shell the amount that I cooked. At around a dollar per pound in most stores that I frequent, it just doesn’t make good economic sense to continue to grow my own.
My conclusion to this matter is that it appears that the fresher the beans are, the less darkened the bean soup will be and the better the beans will taste. Perhaps it would be a good idea to check the dates on the beans when purchasing the Appalachian delicacy. Uncooked beans will last a really long time, but the fresher, the better. Just call me Dr. “D,” the pinto bean expert.
As a self-proclaimed expert, allow me to speak of variations of how to eat these wonders. I’ve already mentioned how I prefer my beans — onion, hot pepper and cornbread. However, there are those poor souls out there who like to use certain condiments in their bowls of wonders, some of which I find a little disgusting.
For instance, I know several people who like to dump a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise in their table treat. Although I don’t think I can ever go that route, I will tell you that my cousin Marvin Burton, now living in Myrtle Beach, as a kid required his mother (Nary) to spoon heaps of mustard into his bowls of beans. He would stir them into a colorful mess.
Guess what? I tried them that way once with onions, and they tasted pretty darned good. Nonetheless, you can count me out on trying the mayonnaise version. Ketchup, maybe? Hot sauce, definitely.
Here’s a little something that puzzles me. From grade school through high school, I don’t believe pinto beans were ever served at lunch at any of the schools I attended. It could be that since nearly every student had them at least once a week at home, other food items seemed more plausible. Fact is, I just don’t know. What I do know is that the cooks should have replaced the pork and beans with the real thing, and that should apply to today’s school lunchroom standards, too. Healthy, healthy.
Growing up, left over beans, which was a rarity, never went to waste. Usually, they were used in the making of chili. Oftentimes, though, they were magically transformed into “bean cakes.” For those who have never tried a bean cake, you are missing a delicacy that should — in my Appalachian opinion — be offered locally at certain restaurants. Trail riders would gobble them up. Just tell them on the menu that Devil Anse’s wife, Levisa, prepared them regularly for him and the rest of the family. The odds are, you wouldn’t be telling a lie.
I do not know how the name was derived, but bean cakes are anything but a cake. They are made similarly to what most people call salmon patties, which were often referred to as salmon cakes, and like potato cakes that are made from mashed potatoes. Of course, there is no sugar used in either of the above mentioned “cake” varieties.
Chopped onion, flour, along with salt and pepper, are mixed into leftover pinto beans, which have been smashed (think of a can of refried beans). Back in the day, the mixture was flattened and fried in a skillet of melted and heated lard. Using vegetable oil, however, works just fine. The secret is keeping the “cakes” from falling apart. There used to be many underground coal miners who took these cakes and a piece of corn bread for their lunches. I don’t suppose that really had anything to do with mine explosions, though.
Now that I think about it, some of my “Porch Sitter” friends used to take a lighter and, while expelling intestinal gas through their blue jean pants, ignited the methane that resulted. A brief blue flame was always the result. And just in case you’re wondering, no, I never tried that; too much of a “chicken” to maybe set myself on fire. Tolbert and Jimmy Marcum, both now deceased, were talented at that sort of thing. God rest their porch sitting souls.
If you’re wondering what could possibly inspire me to write this unorthodox column, I really don’t have a good answer, although I believe it does contain a bit of unusual history. Of course, for me, everything is about history.
Maybe it’s the coronavirus that is getting to me. On second thought, I believe it may be listening to all of the “nuts” on television bring us the gloom and doom of America. Here’s good advice for all of you “worry warts” out there:
As a member of the National Onion Association since 1982, take heed. Onions have been around for thousands of years. Egyptian pharaohs once valued an onion as much as gold, and for good reasons unknown to them at the time.
Filled with prebiotics, which help increase the number of friendly bacteria in your gut to build immunity from viruses. There have been no new studies to link onion consumption to immunity to the current coronavirus scare, although other studies showed onions to be very helpful in past health issues, including the fact that the nutrients in onions strengthen gut health, boost immunity, reduce inflammation and enhance digestion.
High in vitamin C, onions are also a good source of dietary fiber and folic acid. Antioxidant compounds that help delay or slow the damage to cells and tissues of the body are the result of quercetin, a flavonoid contained in the all-powerful onion.
So, now you know why I have to have onions with my beans, as well as with about everything else, except maybe ice cream.
It is my belief that a good bowl of pinto beans and a fresh slice of onion just might cure anything — not including flatulence or bad breath.