Okie Beans

I’ve been meaning to write this post since Christmas, when I finally got my dad to show me start to finish how to make beans. My parents are from a small town near Bakersfield, California, a place I tell my friends is just like Arkansas or Texas, although it is rapidly changing, like many other places. When I was growing up in the 70s, this town was a weird paradise for me, filled with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and twenty-three million cousins (approximate figure). We would drive out there a lot from our sprawling Bay Area suburb. Then my parents would drive my older brother, sisters, and I around their hometown in our big, old 1967 diesel Mercedes to all their old haunts: the car hop, the high school, so-and-so’s brother’s place, various churches, cemeteries, the lake in the dusty, gold hills, and the restaurant downtown where you sat in the cellar and ordered turkey nuts, a local specialty. This place and my memories of my relatives and good times there continues to be a place of dreams for me, a place where I am young and well loved, and my granny is still alive.

And so it is with beans.

I grew up on beans. It is the meal I can say without hesitation is the meal we ate the most. My dad often made them in a pressure cooker whose hiss and sputter marked time while my brother and I vegged out on Hogan’s Heroes and Gilligan’s Island reruns in front of the television after school (my dad worked an early shift, so he was the main cook in our house). An hour or two later and we’d be sitting down to beans, cornbread, and milk. Mmm-hmmm!

Here is my dad’s recipe without the pressure cooker. I followed him around the kitchen taking pictures while he made this. Weirdly, we only had pink beans, so you will notice that the beans in the photos aren’t pinto, but you yourself should use pinto beans if you want the full experience. This certainly isn’t the last word in how to make Okie beans, but this is exactly how my dad makes them, and believe me, he’s the real deal.

Okie Beans

2 c pinto beans

1 red onion

1 T oil

1 hamhock

8 c water

Salt and pepper to taste

Serves a large family

  1. Sort through the dried beans and remove pebbles. Rinse the beans in water in a colander. Put the beans in a bowl and cover with water, one inch above the beans. Soak overnight.
  2. The next day, rinse the beans and set aside.

    Soaked beans

    Soaked beans

  3. Coarsely chop a red onion.

    Coarsely chopped red onion

    Coarsely chopped red onion

  4. Heat up the oil and then saute the onion until it’s soft.
  5. In the meantime, get your frozen hamhock out of the freezer and make cuts in the side of it all over.

    Cutting into the frozen hamhock

    Cutting into the frozen hamhock

  6. Place the hamhock into the microwave and defrost it. It’ll look something like this when it comes out.

    Defrosted hamhock with cuts

    Defrosted hamhock with cuts

  7. Pour 8 cups of water into the onion pot and place the hamhock and beans in there as well. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat and simmer for 1.5 to 2 hours. Adjust for salt and pepper.

    Beans cooking

    Beans cooking

That’s it. You serve this with cornbread. There’s a good recipe on the side of the Alber’s cornmeal box. To be traditional, one would butter one’s warm cornbread and then put the cornbread into one’s milk, but most normal people scream with terror when I tell them about this Okie custom. I do guarantee, however, that if you try it for yourself, you will be thanking me forever. If you can’t stomach that, cornbread is also good dumped into one’s beans.


Filed under Cooking, family recipes, food, Food allergies, Recipes

13 responses to “Okie Beans

  1. Foodie McBody

    Gosh, that looks so delicious. My stomach is rumbling. But what does one do if one does not have a frozen hamhock in one’s refrigerator??

  2. mjennings26

    Indeed! It cracked me up when my dad whipped it out of the freezer because for him it’s the most ordinary thing in there…like he always has a supply?! Ahhhh, I can aspire to always having a frozen hamhock in my freezer.

  3. Cari

    hhmmm…..the best food is food from your childhood. It brings back wonderful memories!

  4. normajean

    The beans were great weren’t they. I sometimes have some hamhocks in my freezer, because when you buy them they come 2-3 in a package, so you freeze the rest. I’ve even made then without the hamhock, and then make camping beans. Remember those? My kids and I love those.
    See ya this weekend.

  5. oh, now I have to ask. Where are you from? I grew up in Merced.

  6. Wait, I read that wrong, maybe I meant where are your parents from.

  7. madre mom

    ohhh…guess whats for dinner this weekend….only it will
    be the real pinto bean. this time…

    i may have to substiture the salt pork for the ham hock…

  8. outsidethecage

    Thanks, all, for the comments! I’m amazed at what huge fans of Okie beans we seem to have out there.

    Charmaine, I’ll have to keep the location of the town a secret for now to protect the innocent! πŸ™‚

  9. mjennings26

    Thanks, all, for the comments! I’m amazed at what huge fans of Okie beans we seem to have out there.

    Charmaine, I’ll have to keep the location of the town a secret for now to protect the innocent! πŸ™‚

  10. Cari

    Maybe you should do an Okie Cookbook! You have plenty of recipes, stories and pictures.

  11. mjennings26

    There is an online program, I forget the name of it, where you can create your own cookbook and people can download and print it from their own printers (for a fee). I’ve been meaning to look into it. Maybe by next Christmas I could get something together to offer the readers of AFFFG.

  12. Rich

    Thanks for all of the great recipes and memories! Your background sounds amazingly like mine! Grew up in San Jose, all of my relatives lived between Morgan Hill and Gilroy and were all Okies and Arkies. We would make trips over to the valley to visit all of the other relatives between Chowchilla, and Oildale. Ate a weird amalgam of Okie and Mexican food. Beans, and torts, or cornbread (with buttermilk of course!) Fried everything; pork chops, chicken, chicken fried steak, anything that can be made with hamburger. My Grandma’s AMAZING biscuits and gravy! Never tatsed any better to this day. Creamed corn, peas with flour and black pepper. All good memories. I also just happen to be an Oregon transplant and a backsliding vegetarian. Small world!


  13. mjennings26

    Hi Rich,
    Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your history. There are so many of us!

    I have a couple of stories about being an Okie over on my other site, http://www.mjennings.com. Enjoy!

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