cornbread in iron skillet

This old Southern favorite can't be described as a soup, and it's not quite a vegetable stew. It may include pork, ham, turkey, or no meat at all. A ham hock is a popular addition to the recipe as is bacon. The beans can be considered relatively healthy, really healthy, or extremely healthy depending on the preparation method. Soup beans is a common term in the Southern United States where they're considered a main course, but also served as a side dish. In rural areas where food was scarce during the winter, these were a staple food.

collard greens in colander

A Southern culinary tradition

My ancestors cooked their beans on top of the stove or, during the cold winter months, in a big cast iron pot that hung in the fireplace. These pots were often simmered slowly all day. They gathered wild greens or used greens from their own gardens. Collards, turnip greens, and mustard greens were (and still are) favorites. Whatever the source, beans with greens and cornbread made tasty, healthy, frugal cuisine then just as they do today. They're a classic part of a meal where any meat included is used more as a seasoning and not the main focus of the dish. They're also an excellent choice for today’s health-conscious culture.

Food plays a major role in telling the story of a region’s cultural heritage. Southern cooks have always drawn from the mix of cultures that make up today's South. These include Native American, African and European. The basic foods of the South are the same as they were three centuries ago.

People on limited budgets can stretch their food budget with a nutritious combination of pinto, white, or butter beans and corn. Generations of people throughout Mexico and the southwestern United States have proven this diet capable of supplying a fair amount of the body's daily requirements of vitamins and minerals and a good portion of the necessary proteins.

How to prepare beans in a crock pot:

  1. Soak the beans overnight in the the crock pot.

  2. In the morning, pour the water off the beans and discard it. Sort through the beans and remove any that may not be good.

  3. Place beans back in the crock pot and cover with 2 inches of clean water, adding some raw garlic and onion; proceed with step 4 above.

  4. Set crock pot on low and cook for 8-10 hours or until beans are tender.

    cooked white beans in bowl on table

How to prepare beans in a pressure cooker:

Follow the instructions in the recipe above for soaking and then saute the onions and garlic in the bottom of your pressure cooker.

    1. Continue at step 4 above.

    2. Bring pressure cooker to high pressure and heat for 25 minutes.

    3. Allow to slowly depressurize.

    4. Once pressure is released, remove the lid and check the beans for tenderness. If they aren’t quite as tender as you like, replace the lid and cook for another 5 minutes at full pressure. Repeat checking the beans until they are as tender as you desire.

cornbread, greens and beans on plate

Nutritious and economical

Nutritionally, neither beans nor corn alone is a complete food due to the fact that neither is a complete protein. However, beans contain all the essential amino acids except methionine, which is one of the amino acids in corn. Together, a mixture of two parts corn and one part beans is almost equal to the protein quality of fresh milk. The addition of fruits and vegetables or relishes such as Southern chow-chow will supply the vitamins and minerals that beans and corn lack.

Combined with a glass of milk, this provides a fairly well-balanced diet that is both tasty and very economical. The further addition of an egg will make this menu significantly closer to nutritionally perfect than the average American diet without raising the total cost by much.