Beans, Beans, Musical Fruit

Late last year, I had planned to make (or attempt to make) chicken soup with some bowtie pasta that had turned out poorly in a dish I’d made. I figured if I added the pasta already encased with tomatoes and sauce to a good, rich chicken broth with shredded chicken, I might be able to redeem myself (and my pasta) to live another day.

Instead, I cooked pintos .

Thirty years ago, I married into a Mexican-American family and discovered the wonders of simplicity – slow-cooked pinto beans and fried potatoes. At every meal. Every day. And, yes, it did get old for someone who’d never associated beans with anything but chili, and chili was far from an every day occurrence. But, I also knew that, even if I didn’t eat them as regularly myself, I would definitely be having them as part of my diet from that point on. I loved them!

My mother-in-law cooked over an antique cookstove that was heated with either wood or coal. A definite flashback to my mother’s childhood, for sure, but there is no crockpot in the world that can truly duplicate the flavors achieved on that stove. Those beans could sit for days on that stove, continuing to stay warm, continuing to cook until they were way too thick for my enjoyment, though no one else turned them down. But when they were first made, the smells that filled the house of beans followed by potatoes frying and tortillas being cooked on that flat-top stove and some scrambled or fried eggs to go with – OMG. There’s nothing like it!

But, I’ve been a lazy cook since my divorce 20 years ago. I’ve only cooked pintos once and my kids were still little and hadn’t gained the appreciation of this simple food needed for me to cook them again. We were pretty much limited to canned refried beans, which they loved, but weren’t part of their grandmother’s kitchen menu. You see, her beans were never mashed and re-cooked. They were served as is, in their entirety, enveloped in a savory broth that consisted of nothing more than water, beans, salt and lard or bacon grease. And, they were spectacular! Truly one of the simple pleasures of life!

Well, I decided it was long past time for me to have some pintos, so I first boiled them for 20 minutes or so and then let them sit and soak. Then I drained them and rinsed them in a colander, put them in the slow cooker, covered them with water, and put them on to cook all night and all day. Only then did I add salt (since salt slows down the cooking process if put in too soon – they take long enough as it is).

I still had the pot on when we left for the store and when we got home and walked in, the house was filled with that beany fragrance I hadn’t enjoyed in literally decades. It was wonderful! And, so were the beans. I haven’t even added any fat to them yet and they’re delicious!

There are a variety of fats you can use to incorporate into the beans, but by far, the most popular is pork fat . Whether it is lard, bacon drippings, salt pork or the fat renderings from sausage (chorizo is a good choice), it adds substance and flavor to the beans (even though, as I said, they’re delicious already without it; so feel free to go fat free if you so choose).

The beans will thicken as they cool, so be aware of that. I believe that the fat incorporation also helps that thickening process. But, don’t limit yourself here. You can eat these as I plan, with eggs and potatoes for breakfast, use them in chili con carne instead of kidney beans, make baked beans with them, mash them with a bit of oil and “refry” them for burritos or bean dip. Or cook up some white rice and serve with the beans and some fresh tortillas.

You’re only limited by your own imagination. Anything another bean like kidney or navy can do, these can do. The flavor will only be subtly different, so why not cook a pound of pinto beans up and get started! They’re a great source of protein.