Cool weather is finally making its way to South Texas. It’s about freakin’ time. We’ll be bundling up and drinking hot chocolate in temperatures that we’re hoping will range from 78 to lows in the 50s. Brrrrrrr.
Whenever it starts to get cold in this neck of the woods my thoughts turn almost immediately to beans and cornbread. A huge, honkin’ pot of beans and a cast iron skillet full of crisp, fragrant cornbread (made with bacon drippings). Isn’t there a time when everyone’s thoughts turn to beans? Is it just me? In Texas, when beans are referenced, it’s a given that pinto beans are the thing. The beans that my deerslayers love are more of a bean soup than just beans lying without much purpose on a plate. Beans need to be served in a bowl. I throw in lots of veggies and ham or wild pork and lots of broth. My latest batch was made with wild pork shank (shin and forearm bones). It was one of the best recipes I’ve prepared in recent memory.
Beans bring people together. A huge pot can be prepared just as easily as a small amount. It only takes as much forethought as sorting, rinsing, and soaking the beans a day ahead. I always prepare more than I need for a meal (and yes, I serve them as a “one bowl” meal) since they freeze so nicely.
Beans that have been frozen are perfect for taking to the hunting camp. I pack the beans in one-gallon bags which I lay out on a cookie sheet in the freezer until ready to stack. The frozen, flat packages of beans will easily thaw and reheat. Don’t forget to take a nice big soup pot to the hunting camp. Cornbread can be prepared ahead or baked fresh and hot if you have a cabin or camper. There are even ways to prepare it using the campfire (I’m not there, yet!). I’ll include the recipe for the beans but the wonderful thing about this dish is that you can use many combinations of veggies and meat to create a hearty, healthy meal.
Bean Soup with Wild Pork Shank
1 lb. of dried pinto beans
2 chopped onions
2 chopped carrots
2 stalks celery, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 chopped, fresh jalapenos
1 can diced tomatoes
2 32oz. boxes chicken stock
2 wild pork shanks
1 bunch cilantro, rinsed and chopped, stems removed. Reserve some for sprinkling.
2 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. kosher salt (added at the end to prevent beans from being tough)
If you’ve never prepared pinto beans before, you need to know that all dried beans must be sorted through to remove any rocks, dirt clods, and nasty beans. (You’ll know them when you see them!) Then the beans should be thoroughly rinsed, placed in a large pot, and covered with twice as much water as will cover them. Let them sit overnight. The beans will expand, absorbing a good deal of the liquid.
The next day, rinse the beans, add enough water to cover the beans and bring to a boil. Add all veggies except cilantro, add chicken stock to cover, return to a slow boil and leave on heat for about 1 1/2 hours. Stir and add pork shanks at this point, add additional chicken stock to cover if necessary.
Return to a boil until pork falls from the bone, about 1 1/2 additional hours. Add salt and black pepper to taste and chopped cilantro. Serve with hot cornbread. Sprinkle with extra cilantro. Enjoy your new favorite comfort food, hunting camp food, autumn food.
*Just as a side note- Many things affect the cooking time for beans. Altitude, age of the beans, differences in cook-tops, length of time the beans soak all can make a difference. Within the past year, I discovered that adding salt early in the cooking process will result in tough beans. This is a bigger issue if you decide to use bacon or salt pork in your recipe, both of which I sometimes do.
Once, my deerslayers and I headed to Colorado for a family ski trip. There were approximately 40 extended deerslayers in attendance. I volunteered to make a huge honkin’ pot of beans (my specialty) for all the in-laws. Sadly, the beans I purchased were old (I presume), we were at a frightening elevation, and I apparently added all kinds of salty goodness to my beans early on in the cooking process. The beans were not ready in time for dinner, nor were they ready the next day after cooking overnight. Someone ended up taking them home, cooking them for an additional 24 hours and reported that the beans were delicious. Strangely, with all the delectible recipes that I am able to prepare, the “bean debacle” is still mentioned at family gatherings after 10 years. Go figure!