We don’t normally cook soup beans on one of the hottest days in August. In fact, I seriously doubt that we had ever cooked soup beans in August before last Saturday. One or the other of us (Loretta or I) may have ordered some in August as a side dish at Cracker Barrel because they had the AC turned down so cold that it felt like the dead of winter, but ordinarily we’d never consider soup beans as proper table fare during the hottest month of the year.
Since readers of this column have asked in previous mentions here exactly what I mean by “soup beans,” I’m talking about plain old pinto beans that most people on Blair Branch served for supper two or three times a week, every week from late October until late May. Said beans were normally soaked in water overnight and then simmered most of the next day with a chunk of seasoned country pork until the water turned into thin, soupy gravy.
At the Adams household when I was growing up, we sometimes cooked white great northern or white navy beans instead of pintos to make soup beans, but the recipe never changed. I’d have chosen navy beans every day, had it been up to me, but pintos made it to the table about 90 percent of the time.
So why, you may be asking, are we serving soup beans in this hot weather? The answer is because some rough circumstances and a touch of misfortune have conspired to rob me of my lower teeth. The circumstances included the fact that I had only one natural tooth holding in my lower dentures. Misfortune came to bear when a handful of peanuts broke that molar off at the stump. I can only chew stuff with my lower gum and soup beans are currently among the limited number of foods that I can make digestible. It’s unlikely that I’ll have new lower dentures before Labor Day. In the meantime, I’ll have to make do with some serious gumming.
When Loretta told me last Saturday that she could quickly whip up a pot of pintos and cornbread for supper, I assumed that she had taken leave of her sanity. The word “quickly” is not one I have ever heard associated with cooking soup beans unless it meant warming up leftovers or getting a can of Luck’s out of the pantry. I already knew that we had neither on hand because the Luck’s had already crossed my mind and that part of the cupboard was bare.
I knew we had dry pintos on hand but I had forgotten about the Instant Pot our daughter, Jennifer Ochs, had gotten us for Christmas.
Without any presoaking this thing will render a pot of soup beans in less than an hour as opposed to the 12-to-20 hour process that I’ve been used to all my life. If there’s any difference in taste and texture between soup beans fixed the old way and the Instant Pot version I sure can’t tell it. The only difference I noticed is that I couldn’t smell them cooking all day. Fifty-five minutes after the dry beans and a quart of water were put in pot, they were ready to eat and they just barely beat a big pone of cornbread out of the oven.
So, as they used to say on Hee Haw every week, “ What’s for supper, Grandpa?”
On Charlie Brown Road, two hours before dark last Monday, the answer was “Warmed up, leftover soup beans, fresh hot cornbread, a glass of good cold milk, a heaping helping of pickled beets, chowchow that Loretta just finished canning and the biggest Molly Helton Sunburst we’ve yet had from the garden.”
I currently can’t chew onions, but I will say this, with a supper like that who needs lower teeth anyway?