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.
2 c pinto beans
1 red onion
1 T oil
8 c water
Salt and pepper to taste
Serves a large family
- 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.
- The next day, rinse the beans and set aside.
- Coarsely chop a red onion.
- Heat up the oil and then saute the onion until it’s soft.
- In the meantime, get your frozen hamhock out of the freezer and make cuts in the side of it all over.
- Place the hamhock into the microwave and defrost it. It’ll look something like this when it comes out.
- 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.
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.