Climbing the Beanstalk: Texas Red Beans and Cornbread

Climbing the Beanstalk: Texas Red Beans and Cornbread

There are certain foods that inspire debate.  New York is certain it makes the only ‘real’ pizza.  New England thinks its Clam Chowder is the only legit version.  I’m not going to enter into the whole BBQ debate! Heck, Americans can’t even agree on how to spell that one.  (Although, we all know Texas BBQ is the grand-patriarch of smoked brisket!)

Narrowing the view to a single state, there’s still debate.  In Texas, chili is practically our state food.  Even so, no two Texans agree on the perfect chili recipe.  Do you use ground beef, venison, or stew meat?  To bean or not to bean is a chili debate still raging hot on the range.  Though ‘real Texans’ wouldn’t hear of ruining good chili with beans!  I have an uncle who makes award winning chili, so I know better than to toss my hat into that arena.

What I want to talk about is beans and cornbread.  In a previous post, I mentioned that this meal is a part of our culture in Texas.  It’s one of those meals that falls into the comfort food category, especially if you have the cash to put in some good smokey ham.  I was leery of posting a recipe for beans and cornbread, because, in my house it would be like posting a recipe for scrambled eggs.  However, a quick consult with Chef Google revealed a lack of recipes for the dish I grew up eating.  These beans were at every church “dinner-on-the-grounds”, both sides of my family “get-togethers”, and my mother-in-law makes a mean pot of beans.  Yet, this is one of those meals for which no one has an actual recipe.  We just do it like our Mamas do.

Most people I know crumble the cornbread and ladle the beans (and juice) over the top. It isn’t very photogenic that way, but it is soul-satisfyingly good!

When I searched for bean recipes, I found beans using cajun seasonings, Tex-Mex seasonings, and a few that resembled wimpy chili.  I love Cajun and Tex-Mex anything (wimpy chili, not so much), but that isn’t what I’m talkin’bout!  So, I’m going to offer up a recipe for beans the way we make them.  Every home in Texas, that makes Beans and Cornbread has their own version.  I don’t claim that this is the ‘right’ version, it is simply my version (and it’s tasty).

I love y’all enough, that I dug out some measuring cups and made an official family tested/approved recipe.  You may not know this, but that is an act of heartfelt affection on my part.  I’m not one of life’s measurers.  You know those jokes about Grandma’s recipes calling for a dash, a dab, and a pinch?  Yep, that’s me.  I’ve expanded the non-standard measurements to include a glug, a splash, and a dollop.  This system has taken hold to the point, that I can tell Grace to put a couple of glugs in a pan and know there will be almost exactly 1/8 cup.  (See, I really do measure.  I just do it with my hands and eyes.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t really help y’all.  So, I lovingly created a version for the poor souls who don’t know that a glug, is about one and a half splashes!)

First, I want to share a quick opinion.  Let me just say, I love recipes.  I enjoy reading cookbooks from cover to cover.  I am one of those weirdos who prefers Fifty Ways to Braise over Fifty Shades of Gray any day!  Even so, I’m not a cook who’s married to recipes.  A recipe should be a starting point.  Think of your recipe not as a map, but as a launch pad.  As you’re making this dish, taste and tweak.  Unless you intend to invite me over for dinner, these beans should be designed to hit the spot for your family.

Texas Red Beans and Cornbread
Print Recipe
This dish was everywhere in my childhood. Both sides of my family, my mother-in-law, all the church ladies, and all my friends' moms made it. For my family, this meal means comfort and good times at the table. I hope you'll try it, and I hope you have a wonderful family dinner over our favorite pot of beans.
Servings Prep Time
6 People 20 Minutes
Cook Time
2-4 Hours
Servings Prep Time
6 People 20 Minutes
Cook Time
2-4 Hours
Texas Red Beans and Cornbread
Print Recipe
This dish was everywhere in my childhood. Both sides of my family, my mother-in-law, all the church ladies, and all my friends' moms made it. For my family, this meal means comfort and good times at the table. I hope you'll try it, and I hope you have a wonderful family dinner over our favorite pot of beans.
Servings Prep Time
6 People 20 Minutes
Cook Time
2-4 Hours
Servings Prep Time
6 People 20 Minutes
Cook Time
2-4 Hours
Ingredients
Servings: People
Instructions
  1. Pick through beans. Place them in a large pot with enough water to cover them, plus two inches above them. Bring to a hard rolling boil and boil for 1 full minute.
  2. Carefully carry the pot to the sink and stir in 1 T baking soda. It will foam and froth, and the water will turn greenish.
  3. Drain into a collander and rinse thoroughly with cold tap water. Also rinse the pot thoroughly.
  4. Put the beans back in the pot and refill with cold water to two inches above the beans.
  5. Add all other ingredients except the salt. (The onion should be peeled, but left whole.)
  6. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Set a timer for thirty minutes at a time, until beans are tender. Every thirty minutes, stir and check water level. Add water as necessary and heat to return to a simmer. When you get near the endo of the cooking time, try to limit the wat you're adding. You want there to be enough juice, but adding water at the last minute dilutes the flavor. I have gotten distracted and added too much water near the end and then had to wait for it to cook back down. Don't be like me!
  7. Allow to simmer for 2-4 hours until beans are tender. Add salt and simmer ten more minutes. They are ready to eat when the beans are tender, but I prefer to simmer them longer. I like the beans really soft and the 'juice' a little concentrated.
  8. If juice is too thin, remove about 10% of the beans and mash or blend. Stir the mashed beans back into the pot.
  9. Serve with cornbread. Some people just eath them together. But, most people I grew up with crumble cornbread in the bowl and ladle the beans, ham, and juice over the top.
Recipe Notes

Tweak this recipe until it suits your family!  I've put ham, ham hock, bacon, or bacon grease in them.  Oh, and there is one thing I do that my mother doesn't.  My Mama's beans don't have garlic.  I am not sure which of us is the normal one, but I really prefer them with garlic.  We are heavily anti-vampire in our cooking at my house!

Note: This recipe details how I make Red Beans and Cornbread.  However, it is all about the seasoning.  So, if you don't want to do the whole 'soda and rinse' thing, you can get your beans ready to cook any way you're comfortable.  If you want more options, check out the Cooking Beans 101 post.  There is a link at the end of this post.

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Cornbread is another highly debated food.  Sweet or savory?  Cakey or crusty?  I like cornbread in most of its variations because it IS bread.  Let’s face it, any way you slice it bread is fantastic!  However, on a trip to Virginia a few years ago we ate at a wonderful place near Monticello.  They used centuries-old recipes, and the food was amazing.  It was incredible…except (dun dun DUN) the cornbread.  Their cornbread looked like white sheath cake.  It was so sweet, that two soft squishy bites sent my blood sugar soaring to diabetic coma levels!

To go with these beans, I like a VERY SLIGHTLY sweet crusty cornbread.  Sam was notoriously picky as a child.  At about age five, he sat down to a table-creaking Christmas dinner, scanned the offerings, smiled lovingly at the cast iron skillet of cornbread, and announced: “Cornbread is just Heaven”.  He’s fifteen, and we still razz him about it.  Though I enjoy teasing him, I still make his Heavenly cornbread!   The recipe for it can be found here.

I hope you’ll give this meal a try.  In our home, it means comfort.  It conjures memories of long ago suppers with loved ones.  For now, the beans are almost ready.  I think I’ll make a pan of cornbread, light the oil lamps, and call the family to supper.  (Some days, we call “Pioneer Days” and eat by oil lamps, just for the sheer fun of it.  But, we still use the dishwasher afterward!  It’s all about priorities, people!)

What are the meals that mean comfort and family to you?  Do you measure with your hands/eyes or with cups?  Leave me a comment, if you have the time.  I love to hear from y’all!

If you need help with bean cooking basics, check out our post on Bean Cooking 101.

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About Anne in the Kitchen

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    1. Are the Portuguese beans on your blog? They sounds interesting! I had a nursing professor once who make us something she called “Portuguese Spaghetti”. I’m not sure it was authentic, but it was fantastic! Have a great week!

    1. Sherry,
      Thanks! They are one of those childhood memory foods for me. Have a great week and thanks for stopping by!
      God Bless!
      Anne

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