My grandmother’s Sunday dinner feasts are a thing of legend. I suspect they’re still a regular topic of discussion in Southeastern Kentucky to this day, over 20 years since her passing. .

Sunday morning is a busy time in the big five bedroom farm house my mamaw calls home. Breakfast must be prepared for six or so hungry eaters, dinner dishes must be started so they can simmer all morning long and then of course a nice dress must be donned in time to make morning service at Keck Baptist Church a few miles down the road.

After a good 2-3 hours of worship (depending on how loquacious the good reverend Damon Helton is feeling) mamaw comes home to put the finishing touches on the feast. While country hams, pot roasts, chicken and dumpling and a half dozen or so vegetables from the nearby garden are coveted by most of the family, I’m happy to have a big bowl of her amazing Northern Beans.

I reckon I must have gotten her bean gene as I love them in all their configurations but the Northern is still my favorite. I use it as the base for my Kentucky classic dish White Chili, but my typical preparation is much simpler. It’s a mimic of Nellie Sullivan’s version and it couldn’t be simpler. A handful of ingredients, love of the people you’re cooking for and patience are all you need.

Here’s my homage to cooked down Northern Beans a ala Nellie Sullivan.


2 lbs, Camellia Great Northern Beans

1 each, Ham Hock, a big one with plenty meat attached



Water, If you have access to well water from out in the country you’re a step ahead of the game


* Sort through and wash your beans

* Place in big kettle or crockpot with plenty water and ham hock

* Bring to boil

* Cook at boil for 1 hour

* Remove hockbone from cook pot, pull meat off bone, reserve, return bone to kettle

* Reduce heat and simmer til extremely tender

* Add reserved meat to beans

They must be “cooked down” which is to say cooked til they are beyond soft. The beans and ham coalescing until they are virtually indistinguishable from one another. This is the one bean dish I make that receives this treatment. It’s important

* Adjust flavors with salt and pepper

This dish needs to be served with a skillet of white meal corn bread hot from the oven. Please be observant of Mrs Sullivan’s tradition and put lots of cows butter on your hunk of corn bread and wash the whole affair down with a big glass of ice cold cow’s milk.

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