The backbone of a good country kitchen in the great state of Kentucky is the pinto bean. It’s transformed into Eastern Kentucky’s household staple dish: Soup Beans, on a nightly basis in thousands of rural households across the Highlands.
A few restaurants in the state carry soup beans but typically this is something you get only if you’re fortunate enough to eat Kentucky home cooking, not restaurant food.
I’ve eaten hundreds of gallons of soup beans since I was a kid. Most native Kentuckians have. They’re cheap, delicious and easy to make. My dad Russell Reeves’ recipe is the gold standard as he’s one of the great country cooks in the state. He can effortlessly knock out a kettle; he also puts out the best pone of cornbread you ever put down your gullet.
Russell Reeves Soup Bean Recipe in his own words.
“Well you get you a big kettle and you fill it up about 3/4 of the way with water from the tap. Throw a couple pounds of pinto beans in there along with a big, ol hamhock and bring your kettle to a boil. Let ‘er boil for a couple hours then lower it down to a simmer for a couple more hours. Once your beans are soft they’re done”
It’s been awhile since I made Soup Beans this way. I fancify my recipe a bit because I love an excuse to make homemade stock, pork stock to be precise. So here’s the way I make the very same dish. Ingredients:
5 lbs Pork Neckbones or Pig’s Feet [I prefer the feet but the neckbones work fine too]
1 bunch Celery
5 each Bay leaves
3 each Onions,sweet,quartered
3 T. Peppercorns,Black
6 quarts Water,municipal
Heat oven to 300 degrees
Place pork in casserole pan
Roast 2 hours
Place half the vegetables in pan
Roast 1 hour longer
Place pork, pepper, all vegetables, both raw and roasted and bay leaves in large vessel
Cover with 6 quarts municipal water
Bring to boil
Dip out 2 cups of boiling liquid and use it to deglaze the pan you roasted the meat and vegetables in [Absolutely crucial step, do not omit, Classic French methodology]
Add deglazing liquid to vessel
Reduce to simmer
Cook for 4 hours
Skim foam off surface as needed
Strain stock into large vessel through colander
Discard vegetable and bone matter
I like to refrigerate my stock at this point and let it sit overnight. In the morning you can remove the layer of fat off the surface and prepare to use your delicious, homemade stock. It’ll last about a week in the fridge or 5-6 months in the freezer.
Now that you’ve got your homemade pork stock you can commence to making the Soup Beans.
* Add two pounds pinto beans to four quarts of pork stock
* Bring to boil
* Cook at boil for two hours
* Reduce to simmer
* Simmer two hours more or til beans are tender
* Adjust flavors with salt and pepper
Voila! You now have one of the real genuine Mountain Soul Food dishes in your repertoire. Be sure and respect the tradition of Russell Reeves and serve your soup beans with a big hunk of fresh cornbread slathered with cows butter.
Bon Appetit y’all