Appalachia Appalachian Food

A Blind Pig Reader Has A Question

How to soak dried beans

A few weeks ago, Gracie left this question on the Blind Pig:

“My husband was just telling me that his grandfather used to “soak beans in the earth” when they’d go camping, before he cooked them. He’d wrap them in burlap and bury them in a hole he dug in the ground. I thought he might be sprouting them but apparently it was only for a day or so before he cooked them, which probably isn’t long enough to sprout. Has anyone heard of this?”

I’m assuming the question is about dried beans.

My experience with cooking dried beans involve letting them soak over night or parboiling them just before cooking.

I suppose soaking beans in the earth could be just another way to soak them. Do you have any answers for Gracie’s question?



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  • Reply
    January 6, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    Not heard of soaking them but rather cooking them…
    My Uncle was raised in northern Maine where he described to me the making of baked beans. They would dig a pit for the bean-pot which was 1.5 to 2 feet in depth where they placed shovels of wood coals lining the bottom of the pit…they placed the bean-pot placed on top of them with additional coals shoveled in around the edges and top of the pot….followed by 10 – 12 inches of soil.
    The bean-pot remained buried overnight and uncovered the next day for what he described as wonderful baked beans…

  • Reply
    January 4, 2015 at 8:52 am

    Jackie’s comment reminded me of the way my Mom fixed tacos. The filling was always a combination of beans, rice, and onions with a little bit of ground beef. Hubby won’t eat that so my kids grew up with ground beef and onions for the basic filling.
    As for our beans (pintos, navy/whites, reds – we just soaked them overnight, drained, them, added the seasonings and simmered all day. Just the basics – nothing fascinating here.

  • Reply
    January 3, 2015 at 11:50 pm

    Have never heard of this.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    January 3, 2015 at 9:13 pm

    I have really enjoyed the comments and responses here, regarding Gracie’s story and question. I was especially interested in b. Ruth’s wondering if anyone else had ever heard of the bean hole cooking method. I have never heard of dampening and “soaking” beans in the earth but in a water-scarcity situation where beans are soaked in a pot of water that will be thrown away, I can see the resourcefulness in the method. But for b. Ruth’s enjoyment I send this link to an article appearing in the magazine “Yankee”, an article describing “bean hole” cooking:

  • Reply
    January 3, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    There are several methods of preparing “bean hole beans,”…in dutch ovens or crocks buried in a hole with stones. Sort of reminds me of the methods of cooking Kalua pig in an imu. If you search the internet for bean hole beans, you will get a lot of results. Here’s one:

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 3, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    In my world beans are an integral part of camping but they require no digging of holes, no wrapping in burlap and no burial. We just take our pocket knives and cut the top far enough around to insert a piece of wood that has been whittled flat because our spoons are probably where we lost the can opener. Really smart campers will get beans that have tabs and tops that peel all the way off. Then you can bend the top into a spoon shape, being careful not to cut your tongue on any sharp edges.
    My favorite method is to shake the beans really good so that none are going to stick to the bottom then cut off the whole top and “drink” them right from the can. If some are still stuck in the can, you can stick then with point of your knife to free them but once again be careful with the knife.
    If you are referring to real backwoods camping, you should be extremely careful about burying things and digging them up the next day. Somethings holes are dug and filled with materials best left to nature. If I were to try your method of preparing beans I would definitely mark the burial spot well. Perhaps a simple little cross marked “Bean Hole.”

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    January 3, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    I’ve never heard of this either, I have camped since I was a kid, mostly in the Smokies. Trying to remember a soft place to dig. I wi;; only soak over night, that quick method just doesn’t work as well. We also cook them all day at a simmer

  • Reply
    January 3, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    I never heard of this, but I suppose it’s OK. When I have dried Pinto Beans, I just use a Jiggler Pot for about 40 minutes to an hour with a slow Jiggle. But I’m kinda layed-back and time doesn’t seem to
    bother me.
    All this is making me hungry. I
    think I’ll make a cake of corn-
    bread to go with that container
    of Pintos in the frig.
    Just heard that Little Jimmy
    Dickens, 94, died yesterday I
    think. I saw him live once at
    the Opera…Ken

  • Reply
    January 3, 2015 at 11:57 am

    I too had never heard of this before today. In Arizona the migrant workers would put a handful of rice and a handful of pintos in a coffee can,cover it with a sheet of metal and bury it. They then built a fire over it and kept it going all night. The beans and rice were ready for breakfast the next morning. The two together make a complex protein.

  • Reply
    Pamela Moore
    January 3, 2015 at 10:57 am

    I wonder if the ground was alkaline; that would cause the bean skins to break down. Similar to doing a quick soak with baking soda in the water.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 3, 2015 at 10:06 am

    I think I found it…The method is from the Abenaki Indians…A
    method of cooking beans in a bean hole.
    I wonder if the idea morphed into just soaking perhaps.
    When traveling a group would go on ahead near a river and dig a bean hole…put the necessary rocks, wood, start fire let coals burn down, etc…put the pot of beans in the hole, cover up to slow cook, by the time the group got there the beans were done…at least that is the jest of it!
    Hope someone else chimes in on this method of cooking beans.
    Oh, and they are supposed to be delicious cooked this way!
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    January 3, 2015 at 9:28 am

    I’ve never heard of soaking beans in the ground. My parents used to “hold up” fruits and vegetables in the ground as a way of preserving them through the winter months.
    Maybe his grandfather used the technique for other reasons, like keeping rodents or varmits from finding them. This is a very interesting subject. Can’t wait to read what others have to say.

  • Reply
    January 3, 2015 at 8:44 am

    I’m not really a camper, so I can say I have never tried or heard about beans in the ground. It’s an interesting thought to keep them moist and ready for next day cooking. I think it would depend on the type of ground. NC has a lot of clay, so I’m not sure how much moisture can be gathered from them sitting in the ground.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 3, 2015 at 8:05 am

    If you’re going to be camping for several days I could see doing this. The beans would pull moisture from the earth! However, since I would want to wash these beans from mini creepy crawlers and also the use of water to cook them in, I don’t see the purpose of soaking them in the soil. It seems it wouldn’t save that much water. Now then, if one was after a earthy flavored bean it makes perfect sense.
    No, I never heard of it. We never soaked our beans when camping we just let them cook all day long, adding water as needed!
    For we were in the grand open air that infused and defused any flatulence with the flora of the forest!
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS..I bet Jim/Don has heard of a ‘burying soak’ for beans in all their camping knowledge!

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    January 3, 2015 at 7:38 am

    I have not heard of “soaking beans in the earth” before. But it makes sense. The soil would form a proper covering, and the beans would be protected from dirt as they are covered, or wrapped up. The time in the earth would soften the hard covering of the dried beans and make them easier to boil tender on the campfire. Interesting. Know that our forebears in the mountains were always looking for ingenious ways to do things. Later on, with our better knowledge of how to get hard, dried beans and peas ready for the table, we learned that soaking overnight quickened the time of cooking them. Why not let Mother Earth do this job? Many lessons are learned by “trial and error,” and then practicing what works best!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    January 3, 2015 at 7:31 am

    Tipper–I’ve done a lot of camping but don’t ever recall taking dried beans along, although dried fruit, rice, and pasta, all of which require soaking and/or cooking in plenty of water, have been standard.
    This way of handling beans is new to me but I think your assumption, that it is an alternative to soaking dried beans overnight, is likely correct.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 3, 2015 at 7:24 am

    I’ve never heard of that, Tipper. I suppose if the ground were moist it could work the same as soaking overnight in water but that sure seems like a harder way to get the job done.
    This sounds a little like some kind of folk lore that intends the beans to be imbued with some quality from the earth.
    I’ll be interested to see if any other Blink Pig ‘Associates’ have ever heard of this.

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