When we were kids, my brothers and I would trade off spending the weekends at my grandparent’s house. We would wake up early on Saturdays to fresh baked biscuits, fried ham, coffee and whiffs of my granddad’s pipe tobacco permeating through the house. Once they got us rousted out of bed, breakfast would be those crispy-bottoms biscuits slathered in Parkay Margarine with a healthy dose of my grandmother’s thoroughly horrible burnt sugar jam “doesn’t it taste just like fresh blackberries?” and a big glass of sugar laden coffee with Pet Milk (we weren’t allowed coffee at home). It, honestly, was the best part of the weekend sleep-over.
Once the meal was done, it was out to the garden for a fun-filled full day of tilling, weeding, picking… in the garden. Looking back on it now, it’s pretty evident why we were over so often during the summer…. Slave labor. The big breakfast? It was just to make sure we didn’t pass out during the day… I’m convinced of it.
As long as I can remember, Harold and Evelyn always had a garden. Tall, green fragrant rows of corn, pole beans, butter beans, okra and squash filled every square inch of the vacant lot adjacent to their house. I always felt that they grew enough produce to feed an army, but it really wasn’t all that much. My grandmother froze the fresh okra, beans and corn so that we could all enjoy the bounty of their garden.. (and the fruits of our labor) long into the winter months.
Since I was the younger of the indentured servants and too short to pick corn, I was relegated to bean duty. I picked basket after basket of pole beans, half runners, purple hulls and butter beans (limas). And when the pickin’ was all done, came the long and arduous chore of stringing and breaking the packed brown paper bags of beans.
I cook when I’m stressed. So with these past weeks of driving back and forth to Gainesville to check in on mom, I would stop in at the Ugly Tomato in Murrayville to let myself hang around food and decompress. On one of the visits, I came across a couple of bushels of Cornfield Beans.
Cornfield beans are an heirloom strain of full runners (think something between pole beans and purple hull) that are allowed to mature fully and harvested when the corn is picked. Normally, they are eaten as dried beans or shelly. These, however, were still tender and young. I decided to pick up a bushel and cook up a passel of good ole Southern Green Beans.
The key to good southern beans is a spoon. You stir green beans. Unlike cafeteria… canned…Yankee beans, all the liquid is cooked out of the pot and the beans are turned in – and fried a bit – in the oil in the pot.
Save your “You’re ruining the nutritional value of the beans” talk. I’ll have none of it. This is the way five Southern and proud generations of my family have cooked beans, and none of them looked malnourished.
Southern Green Beans
Makes – a Big ole Pot
4 Pounds Pole Beans (full or half runners, purple hull, bush beans will do)
4 Strips Thick Bacon (cut into strips) or 1 Ham Hock
3 Tablespoons Oil
2 Tablespoons Salt (use more or less, depending on personal taste. You want the water salty, but not unbearably so)
Water to Cover Beans
Pairing Knife (Or just some really good bean breaking skills)
- String the beans – you’ll want to check and pull the strings off both sides of the bean. If you snap off the very tip of the stem end of the bean, the string should zip right off. Do this for both sides.
- Snap or cut the beans into 1″ sections. If any of the hulls are too tough to snap, split open the hull and add the shellys to the pot.
- On medium high heat, place the Dutch oven on the stove and add the bacon and oil
When the bacon is rendered, add the beans and stir to coat all the beans in the oil
- Allow the beans to fry in the oil for a couple of minutes or until the steam begins to smell like fresh beans.
- Add water to cover the beans, and add the salt
- Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low
- Cook uncovered until all the moisture is out of the pot
- Once the beans are dry, begin turning the beans under and continue to coat in the oil.
- Taste for saltiness and adjust if needed
- Raise the heat to high and continue to stir until the beans begin to darken and just begin to stick to the bottom of the pot
- Remove from the heat and allow to sit for a couple of minutes
- Transfer to serving bowls and serve them up!
Farmhouse Photo Note:
The farmhouse photo is not the family farm. This is an Old Auraria, GA farm and house that the community of Auraria has taken over for preservation. They continue to maintain the old family farm exactly as it has been farmed for over a century.