Green beans, sweet corn, Irish potatoes, cabbage, squash, tomatoes, sweet onions, and peppers were just some of the vegetables she grew from seed and put up in Mason jars to get her family through the long, cold winters of Appalachia. Continue Reading
We wrote about the Murder At The Root Beer Stand in a previous report but on this visit our only concern was scoring a chili bun. A chili bun is a chili dog minus the dog. It’s a culinary peculiarity that you can only find in parts of Central Appalachia.
It is also delicious.
Winchester, a small town in central Kentucky ran with the decree and has turned their annual beer cheese party into one of the state’s best food festivals. Continue Reading
We have yet to find a Louisiana source that can even come close.
We ranged across two continents and half of the US eating tacos this year but during our end of year analysis we surmised that the finest of them all was served out of a tiny, taqueria in a forlorn strip-mall in Lexington Kentucky.
Once a year I drive up to Appalachia where I’ve been researching an Eastern Kentucky Chili Bun Trail for the past decade.
Corbin, Kentucky is the buckle of the chili bun belt but as you radiate outwards from that dusty little town you will encounter the regional specialty in a host of small villages like Barbourville, Manchester, Williamsburg and London.
For the uninitiated a chili bun is a chili dog minus the dog.
In my cross-hairs for my next pilgrimage: D&D Market in Stinking Creek, Kentucky. Coordinates 36.905605, -83.699637 if you’re looking for a roadtrip. Maybe I’ll run into you there and buy you a chili bun.
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
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, 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.