I imagine several of us know that Bushie's pinto beans are known throughout the southern Appalachian Mountains as “soup beans”. Pintos, cooked with salt pork or ham bone and seasoned with salt, once constituted the most common meal in the region. And in many pockets of Southern Appalachia, it continues to be one of the more common meals.
Soup beans, along with cornbread, literally saved thousands of malnourished families from extreme hunger and even starvation during The Great Depression years. In the depressed Eastern Kentucky coal fields of the 1950s, I went to school with many children whose diet at home consisted heavily of these beans cooked in a soupy fashion. No meal is more representative of the poorer regions of the southern mountains, or the South for that matter, than this one. I don't know what destitute people would have done without this cheap food during long winters in the era before food stamps.
Where I grew up, soup beans was a dish closely associated with poverty. At school I discovered some children and adults would not eat soup beans in public, as they didn't want to be connected with the provender so many poor people depended on.
We served pinto beans as a side dish and as bean soup once a week in our restaurant, but soup beans with corn bread was so popular that Mom could have served it every day.
I still love soup beans and, like Bushie, cook them lovingly in the traditional way. Many small town cafes in the southern mountains have soup beans on the menu at least once a week and some places serve it daily. The dish is always served with cornbread or corn cakes and onion.
There’s a cache about this meal nowadays. Club women in my home town host community soup bean dinner fundraisers. I went to one a few years ago, and noticed that people really come out for these dinners.
A soup bean meal at our house was pretty simple: freshly baked corn bread, green onions from the garden, thick, crispy fried country bacon and large bowls of the soupy beans. Properly cooked and seasoned, pinto beans (soup) are delicious. I've seen more than a few people raise their head after their first spoonful ever, and go something like, "Wow! This is delicious."
I’m thrilled our gracious Texas friend shared his pinto bean recipe with us, but I'll have to smile when I hear it called Bushie's Beans.