Appalachia Appalachian Food

Dried Beans


“No account of food habits in East Tennessee would be complete without a discussion of the role of dried beans. If there was a single staple when I was growing up, it was dried beans. They might be white, pinto, or mixed, but they were always there. Every two or three days beans would be cooked, usually seasoned with fat salt pork; they were much better if cooked with a country ham (or shoulder) shank.

Then they were reheated each day until they were gone and a new batch was started…Given this heritage, is it any wonder that I still must occasionally find a pinto (or Great Northern) bean fix to make it through a hard week?

Even though East Tennessee humor tends to be a little strange, I ought to give you one bean story. It seems that a farmer came home after a hard day’s work to see that supper consisted of pinto beans and corn bread. He turned to his wife and asked, “Why are we having beans again tonight?” She thought for a moment and said, “I just don’t understand you. You liked beans on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Now suddenly on Saturday you don’t like them anymore. I just don’t understand you.”

—Walter Lambert, “Kinfolks and Custard Pie”


Soup beans and cornbread was a common meal for us when I was a child. I remember the beans being better the next day when we had them for leftovers, but I don’t ever remember eating them for an entire week.

One of my best friends grew up in Graham County. She said her mother would fix a big pot of soup beans and they’ed eat them till they were gone. She said she loved them the first few days, but by the end of the week when they were thick and mushy she couldn’t stand them.


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  • Reply
    March 9, 2020 at 3:01 pm

    Moma always looked her beans good before cooking them. 🙂 (She took the rocks out of them)

  • Reply
    elithea whittaker
    March 9, 2020 at 12:50 pm

    awwww, i rushed right over hoping there would be your recipe!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    February 19, 2019 at 4:06 pm

    We love dried beans…Pintos, white, mixed, navy, etc. etc. We used to grow Shelly beans…We shelled them and cooked them with out green beans. I love Shellies and Green beans cooked together…seasoned with streaked meat and onion of course. When I was a girl it was my job to look the dried pinto beans for little rocks, dirt clumps and itty bitty sticks…I still wash and look my beans…Don’t find those little odd pieces like in years past, but still look them anyway! We love a big pot of pinto beans and a big pot of turnip greens in the Fall of the year..Sometimes I might cook some cubed taters and onions to go with them…Always a skillet of cornbread and some ones if there are still a few left from late plantings…Tall glasses of milk and the feast begins…When the beans get down to a couple of cups left in the pot…that is the day I make chili and use up the rest of the pot liqueur and pinto beans…I don’t know why a few days old pinto beans taste so good in homemade chili…We have grown just about all kinds of peas and beans on our place thru the years…except Pinto Beans…just too easy and cheap in the store…One of my favorite beans was a large purple speckled bean…yummm, it was so good…we ate them fresh but a lot let them dry and shuck for winter…
    Love this post..
    By the way…It’s about time for a big mess of crappie, left over pintos, fried taters, slaw and hush puppies…
    One more thang…
    In the Spring when early lettuce was just making…and we stole a few young green onions. I loved leftover pinto beans and a big bowl of kilt lettuce and cornbread…lol

  • Reply
    Aaron Patterson
    February 19, 2019 at 1:31 pm

    Cranberry beans make the best soup. ROLL up a piece of lacey bread and dip it in and it’s bean heaven.

  • Reply
    lc barn
    February 18, 2019 at 7:38 pm

    pinto beans cooked slow all day, with lots of soup is the best part of a cold, wet, windy day, like today. with a cake of hot corn bread and butter and a piece of onion- makes me want to fight a bear.

  • Reply
    February 18, 2019 at 6:38 pm

    Still to this day, that is my favorite food. Beans and Cornbread, with onion. My husband and i will go out and eat and what do i get, beans and Cornbread. My husband like of all things. I say , i love em. I was raise on em
    I probably will always love em.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    February 18, 2019 at 2:00 pm

    Reading Miss Cindy’s comment about her Uncle Hub made me think of Hub Holloway and his wife Lori. (who cut my hair.) Anyway, I was in their store on time and ole Hub was about half drunk and he asked me if I wanted anything. Well, he didn’t mention no money, so I told him I’d like 5 of those Jonny Crackers there on the counter in that big 5 gallon jar. He reached “em to me and said “that would be five cents.” I told him I didn’t have no money. He stormed back thru the store muttering something and I had already eaten one and his wife heard this commotion, and came running in where I was. Old Hub saw that I was about to cry so he said “Hell, I was just kidding!” I was only 5 or 6 years old back then, but they liked me and took me fishing. Lori was an excellent fisherwoman, she could catch Pike like nobody’s business. She would set about 5 cane poles and one time she caught old Hub. He was lying on his back with his shirt off and he was too close for comfort when Lori hooked him on top of the shoulder. Ole Hub was a big man, but didn’t say nothing, he just grabbed Lori’s line and she was a jerkin, trying to get it loose. I could see the blood just a spurtin’. He moved on up the hill after they got the hook out. I had many good times with them Ken

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    February 18, 2019 at 12:19 pm

    They were a staple at my house and truthfully I didn’t enjoy them then. Now I love them, especially with cornbread and a sweet onion.

  • Reply
    harry adams
    February 18, 2019 at 12:14 pm

    I still find ham and bean soup a treat. especially on these cold winter days. When growing up we had more black eyed peas and corn bread. When growing up we always ate until left overs were gone. We still do and my 40 year old daughter is seeing the sense in it. With food prices high and not having to cook every night.
    I am getting ready for lunch and am finishing potato soup that I made 5 days ago. It is just as good today as the first. May have to make another pot tomorrow.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    February 18, 2019 at 11:34 am

    My family also loved yellow eye beans the best. We had them often and never complained about left overs. I still love them and grow my own because they have become rather expensive. When local churches have suppers featuring dried beans they call them “Poor Man’s Supper” because they usually don’t have meat (except that used for seasoning). Anything tastes good with them, but cornbread is essential.

    • Reply
      Diane Conti
      April 6, 2020 at 8:11 am

      My pantry has every kind of dried bean. Can’t live without them. Now that I live in Turkey I can’t find split peas. I found whole dried green peas and bought at least a kilo of them. I soaked them over night, cooked them the next day and they were still hard! I think next time I’ll use the pressure cooker. Any suggestions?

      • Reply
        April 6, 2020 at 8:20 am

        Diane-I think I’d try the pressure cooker too. Other than that the only thing I can think of is to cook them a lot longer. I hope you are well!!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    February 18, 2019 at 11:29 am

    Our Mama use to almost always have a pot of Pintos on when we got in from School. At night me and Harold would get up and sneek into the kitchen, pull the warming closet open, and take a big spoon and peel back the greese that had cooled down and was froze over, so we could get at those Pintos. With a piece of cornbread, nothing tasted better. It was Cold as the Dickens in there but we didn’t care, we were after those Pintos and thick soup. Such wonderful memories! Ken

  • Reply
    February 18, 2019 at 11:19 am

    At My Granny’s house she’d pretty much cook up a pot of bacon or ham seasoned great northern beans and we’d eat them every day till gone, …that didn’t take long because the size of the first cooking was smaller than when she was cooking for ten in earlier days…I loved the first day’s cooking too, especially the bean soup…,always had cornbread too. Granddaddy ate hot(very hot) green tomato ketchup on his beans, my husband prefers sweet green tomato ketchup…. I like ketchup . Especially enjoy Beans with fried catfish, slaw , hush puppies, taters and onions …gosh I’m getting hungry 🙂 I’ve not eaten yellow eyed beans(Googled to have a look) …wondered if they tasted similar to a black-eyed pea ? Another thing I wondered , which way have any of you always spelled ..–> Ketchup/Catsup ?

  • Reply
    February 18, 2019 at 11:07 am

    Nobody’s yet mentioned either diced onions to garnish that bowl of beans or little green onions and some salt on a saucer to accompany them.

  • Reply
    February 18, 2019 at 11:00 am

    I grew up eating navy bean soup with biscuits. Mama usually fixed them on a cold and snowy day. In fact, we had navy beans and homemade rolls on Saturday. It was snowing, raining, and sleeting throughout the day, so it comfort food on a cold night.

  • Reply
    February 18, 2019 at 10:44 am

    A big pot of soup beans never lasted all week at our house. I liked the soup more than the beans, especially if they were cooked nearly all day and the soup was thick. Mom looked every handful for rocks and broken beans before she washed them in three or four waters. I don’t think she ever soaked them like I do when I fix a mess. When Dad was delayed at work, he would tell his boss that he had better hurry and get home ’cause the beans would have a skim over them before long.
    Mom never planted pinto beans in her garden. I have often wondered why she didn’t. Maybe it was due to them being readily available and cheap at the store. I didn’t know you could raise them until I moved to Louisville and my neighbor was planting a big patch. She said the homegrown pintos are like anything else out of the garden, just all around better.

  • Reply
    Debbie Wilson Nobles
    February 18, 2019 at 10:36 am

    I grew up eating them every week too.My grandparents were from Western NC.When they moved to NW Fla for work in 1910 all their culture came too.It was passed on to the children and grandchildren. I am so happy to still hold on to their ways.

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney Jr
    February 18, 2019 at 10:14 am

    Sorry to not have included this in my previous comments, but the “Dried Beans” I referred to were actually “Shuck Beans” where I grew up. They were also referred to as “Leather Britches”.

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney Jr
    February 18, 2019 at 10:05 am

    We had “Dried Beans” and also had “Shellie Beans”. To us, they were two different beans, altogether. The dried beans were usually strung on a string and hanged to dry. We also spread them on a screen and put them outside to dry. You would think birds would steal them and crap on them, but I never remember that happening. They were prepared by boiling them hull and bean together. As you can imagine, it took a long time boiling to make them tender. They were delicious and became more so when “warmed over.” Cornbread was a “must” with them just as with shellies or soup beans.
    The shellie beans , which I guess, could be either October or Pinto were always referred to as “Soup Beans.” I have also heard them referred to as “Brown Beans.”
    Any others have the same memory of beans as I?

  • Reply
    February 18, 2019 at 9:46 am

    My favorite is a pot of what is sometimes referred to as soup beans. Some folks cook the liquid out and leave the beans, but I always preferred them soupy. We also had the beans Miss Cindy referred to called yellow eyed beans. One year we could not obtain, and when I saw them advertised at a market, I went in and bought several pounds. The cashier said they could not get them, because they had all been sent overseas???? That didn’t make sense, but then I realized everything does not always have to make sense when it comes to our government.

    I grow a bean we call October bean, and others call Cranberry. One of the many times I miss being able to ask my Mom something. She once cooked a bean she called Bird Eye or Bird Egg (not to be confused with the Brand Name), and I cannot remember exactly what that bean was.

    Ron mentions it not being common to look beans anymore. My cousin married a Yankee, and she didn’t find out she should look for rocks until hubby bit down on a rock.

  • Reply
    February 18, 2019 at 9:41 am

    I absolutely cannot stand them…now mind you my momma would cook them often enough, but i just can’t stand the texture…or the way no how…the ONLY kind of bean i’ll eat are green beans..don’t like any other kind…when momma cooked she fixed fried taters, corn bread and pinto beans and well i ate the taters and cornbread…i learned to cook them though…then when my husband and I got married he said i didn’t cook them long enough…he likes ’em mushy…

  • Reply
    Annie R.
    February 18, 2019 at 9:30 am

    My Grandma Elsie made pinto beans & dumplings.
    Still not sure if this recipe came from her family or Grandpa’s side of the family,
    but it is a favorite meal of generations in our family.
    Grandpa was from south east Illinois, Grandma from the boot hill of Missouri.
    Dad taught Mon how to make them. She didn’t know how to cook when they married in 1936.
    She got real good at makin them though.
    Because on their 40th wedding anniversary.
    Dad had a plaque made up for her, at the trophy shop.
    ” For 40 years of bean & dumplings, home made biscuts and lovin.”

    I’d like to know if any of your readers have had beans & dumplings.
    Dad said it was a coal miners meal ?

  • Reply
    February 18, 2019 at 9:24 am

    I love, love Pinto beans especially cooked with ham hock and eaten with corn bread and a sweet onion. Down south my Mother would cook, I think they were called purple hull speckled beans., haven’t found them where I live now but oh my what wonder flavor they had.

  • Reply
    Yecedrah Beth Higman
    February 18, 2019 at 9:12 am

    I wish I could find yellow-eyed beans. I have looked for them for years. Used to be I’d find them in the grocery store but I can’t find the dried or canned. I really liked yellow eyed beans. Pinto’s are the next favorite bean with corn bread, fried potatoes, and onion!!!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    February 18, 2019 at 8:51 am

    We had to search for rocks too. I still do but don’t find any. My favorite is navy beans, I love Navy Bean Soup, a little coffee shop used to make them the absolute best I have ever eaten. My dad tried to duplicate theirs for years but it just wasn’t the same. We grew up with beans on the table mostly as a side dish but sometimes as a meal

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    February 18, 2019 at 8:25 am

    Tipper–I reckon soup beans and cornbread go right to the heart of matters when it comes to Appalachian “soul food.” Inexpensive, filling, and mighty tasty (especially if the beans were cooked with a bit of streaked meat or maybe the cornbread had cracklin’s in it), it’s some of my favorite fare. Other Smokies’ soul food which sits high on my list includes squirrel with gravy, biscuits with sawmill gravy, canned apples the way Momma put them up, backbones-and-ribs, and chicken fried properly. For the sweet tooth I would add Momma’s applesauce cake and Grandma Minnie’s stack cake, throw in fried apple pies for good measure, and feel like I’d gone to hillbilly culinary heaven.

    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    February 18, 2019 at 8:23 am

    I still like them. And cornbread and greens of any kind, biscuits and gravy. Actually I’ll eat just about anything.

  • Reply
    Rosamary Christiansen
    February 18, 2019 at 8:20 am

    My folks are from West Virginia. Mom would make a big pot of pinto beans and we would eat them til they were gone, the next day mom would make more. Every day at lunch and dinner beans, taters, meat, and biscuits. Mom would say: “beans beans musical fruit, the more you eat, the more you toot. The more you toot, the better you feel, thats why I eat them every meal”

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    February 18, 2019 at 8:18 am

    What I have to ask everybody is, Did your folks search the store-bought pinto beans for rocks and dirt clods? My Mom always did and I helped sometimes and back then at least beans did have both in them. I said something about it at church one day and it seemed nobody there ever searched the beans. What am I missing here?

    As to dried beans, what better thing to have when there is no refrigeration or cans? Hence dried stuff; corn, beans, rice, jerky etc were the staples on the trail and a slow-cooking meal in the fireplace. But pity the poor cookie on the cattle drive. They must have been constantly at work. Think what all was involved in cooking trail beans. And they were expected to have hot coffee on the fire at all hours and in places where firewood was not ready to hand sometimes. Which reminds me, Anybody put liquid smoke in their beans?

    • Reply
      Sanford McKinney Jr
      February 18, 2019 at 9:49 am

      Yes my Mother always searched for “anything” that wasn’t a bean. She always washed them twice before adding the “streaked meat” and “parboiling” them. My oldest Sister soaked her beans overnight and then boiled them. Her beans were actually better than my Mother’s beans.

    • Reply
      aw griff
      February 18, 2019 at 9:57 am

      Yes and still do search the beans but it isn’t like it was years ago when you always found dirt and small rocks in the beans.
      we never have put liquid smoke in our beans. Right off, I don’t know anyone that does.

    • Reply
      February 18, 2019 at 11:29 am

      Though I don’t cook them often, I still sort through dry beans looking for debris! I’m pretty sure the cooking instructions on the bag still suggest it. The things we learned when we were very young seem to become ingrained. I remember performing this ritual weekly as a southern WV transplant in the big city of Baltimore.

    • Reply
      Wanda Devers
      February 18, 2019 at 12:20 pm

      I always “look” the dried beans. they will occasionally have small rocks and always need washing. I like some liquid smoke in my beans. I use quite a bit of it, especially in baked beans.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    February 18, 2019 at 8:17 am

    Soup beans and cornbread were a staple when I was growing up, too. I hadn’t had them in ages when, three years ago, my cousin John made a pot for the family reunion. It reminded me of what I had been missing.

    Since then, I make a pot for special occasions and when the kids want them. Which is often.

    They are better the next day.

  • Reply
    February 18, 2019 at 7:51 am

    Still one of my favorite meals, pintos with ham, corn bread and a green onions, Hmmm.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 18, 2019 at 7:38 am

    I love dried beans, Pinto’s were always my favorite. I rarely cook them now cause it would take me two weeks to eat a whole pound.
    I think I’ve told this bean story before but it’s worth repeating. My Uncle Hub grew up here in the mountains and moved to Texas when the Canton based company opened a paper plant in Pasadena Texas. Hub loved Yellow Eyed Beans he grew up eating them. His favorite was Yellow Eyed Beans, but they were not available in Pasadena. They had Pintos and Navy Beans but no Yellow Eyed Bean. To solve this problem Hub brought an extra empty suitcase when he came to visit every summer and filled it full of one pound bags of Yellow Eyed Beans, enough to last him a year. He was always so pleased to get enough of the beans to last him a year.
    I like dried beans but not quite as much as my Uncle Hub!

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