Any reader who was a customer at Kete-Yama’s Restaurant, on Lower Main St. in Wailuku, might remember having ham-n-beans with cornbread as their daily special at the cafe when my parents were visiting and making specials for us. When queired, “What get special?” as our ‘reglar’ customers arrived for lunch, my buddy Clarita would laugh and respond, “for special get ham-n-beans-n-cornbread that Katy says is “a haole soul food recipe. it’s something her fada made and stay good!” and those beans would sell right out. Yep, no rice in sight with this special dish, just beans seasoned with a ham bone, or like the beans today, with ham pieces and roast pork. For people in the mid-west and south, beans are equivalent with the starchy rice which local people in Hawai’i enjoy with every meal, and certainly beans and potatoes, biscuits or cornbread equals haole soul food for sure! Some might even say that equation also implies “redneck haole soul food” and that would be descriptively accurate as well. =)
Either of my grandmas would tell you that there are two kinds of cooks in this world: those who can cook beans and those who cannot. My Grandma Greer used to shake her head sadly every time she mentioned the family member of hers who “just can’t cook beans to save her life; awww, bless her heart” because being inept at cooking your family an acceptable pot of beans here in Missouri is a woeful thing indeed. A large pot of beans will feed six people, or three very hungry ones, and beans are a nutritious and inexpensive way, as is a pot of rice, for feeding those people.
There is nothing at all hard about cooking beans if you remember these few things: soak the beans the night before in 6-8 cups of cold water to cover, adding just a pinch of baking soda to relieve the gassy effects beans produce when eaten, be careful of the water you use for both soaking and cooking them, and do not season with salt while they are cooking as this will make them hard just as the water you cook them in might. I buy jugs of water at the grocery to use especially for cooking beans as my tap water is hard; it took several attempts before I realized it was the water that was making for hard beans. $.89 for a jug of distilled water and softer beans. It works.
The ADDED BONUS here (because you are into added bonuses, right?) is that cooking ham and beans means there is cornbread left from the cornbread you surely made to serve with them, used as “dessert” later at night for smooshing up a slice in a very cold glass of buttermilk. YUM! Cornbread-for-dessert means less time in the kitchen today and you will be sitting down to your supper in just 2 hours with dessert already prepared. How cool is that?
If you have a ham bone definitely add it to the pot. My local market carries a Tennessee brand of “biscuit ham pieces” and that is what I used today along with some roasted pork I had on hand. If you soak your beans overnight, they will cook in 1-1/2 hours; don’t over cook them or they will become mushy and shapeless. Taste them after an hour and a half and either turn them off or allow them more time, simmering over low heat with the lid tilted, until they soften. Adjust the amount of water you use depending on how “soupy” you want the beans. I like my beans soupy, the better for sopping up with the cornbread; the amount of liquid is really up to the cook.
Stir up your cornbread and bake it the last 30 minutes as the beans simmer. If you absolutely cannot manage a skillet of cornbread, then Jiffy Mix works too for corn muffins. Actually, I sometimes eat my leftover beans with just Saltine crackers, crumbled into the bowl, once the cornbread runs out so you can see how many are the options here.
That’s it. Now just call ’em to the table for yet another best-of-winter-country-comfort food supper!
Ham & Beans
1 lb. package dry Great Northern white beans
1 large ham bone with meat scraps on
1 onion, chopped
1 chicken or ham bouillon cube
6-8 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste
Directions Soak beans overnight in 4-qt saucepot with a pinch of baking soda and enough water to cover. The next morning, pick over the beans and toss out any with loose hard shells; drain the beans and rinse saucepot. Leave meat and fat on the bone for seasoning; place soaked beans in pot and add 6-8 cups water. Add onion, bouillon cube, bay leaf, and the ham bone or ham pieces with fat and rind included. Bring to a boil over high heat. Taste broth and add pepper to taste; do NOT add salt until beans are finished cooking as this makes them hard. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, on low, for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Add water during cooking if you like your beans “soupy”. Before serving, remove the ham bone and bay leaf, adding any scraps of meat left on the ham bone to the pot.