Soup and Bread

Appalachian Soup Beans

IMG_1597From Cinnamon Cooper

Says Cinnamon: This is the ultimate “make do and get by” soup. Incredibly inexpensive to make, infinitely variable depending on what you have on hand, this recipe has a couple of main variations on how it is served. But the consistent things are fat + pinto beans, never any meat. Pinto beans will break down if they’re cooked without salt, which makes variation A possible. And if they are cooked with salt they’re more likely to keep their shape, which makes variation B possible. Pinto beans are also historically the cheapest bean to procure, even for mostly self-sufficient folks who raise and put up the majority of their own food.

Variation A, the one my mother made, and the one served at Soup & Bread, has the beans cooked extra long and then mashed a bit to break some of them down to create a thicker soup. This thicker soup, should often result in at least 2 rounds of dinners for a family of 4-5. Do not add salt to the broth until shortly before serving. Added salt will prevent the beans from breaking down.

Variation B, the version my great-aunt made, has you add salt to the broth while the beans cook to prevent the beans from breaking down. Typically you cook the beans in the broth, scoop the beans out and serve them on a plate. The broth is reserved to become the basis for soup the next day. My aunt would add cabbage, potatoes, and carrots to her Next Day Soup.


1 pound of pinto beans
1/4 to 1/3 pound of pork fat back, fat scraps, or salt pork
1 large onion
1-2 cloves of garlic (or 1 teaspoon of garlic powder)
salt and pepper to taste
cornbread, biscuits, and chow-chow or sauerkraut to be served as garnish


Sort the beans to remove any stones, debris, or shriveled beans. Rinse under running water until it runs clear. Place the beans in a large bowl or pan and cover with several inches of water to soak overnight. (Alternately, you can place the beans in a large pan, cover with water, boil for 1 minute. Cover the pan with a lid and let it sit for 1 hour.) Drain the soaking water.

Finely chop your onion and your fat back until they are roughly the same size. Place in a skillet over medium heat and cook while stirring frequently for 5-7 minutes. You want the onions to be cooked through and for the mixture to turn a slight golden brown in spots. Do not brown the onions. Add in your garlic and cook for an additional minute. (If you’re making variation B, go ahead and add a tablespoon of kosher salt, or a teaspoon of table salt.)

Dump your beans and your onion mixture into a large pot. Cover with 2 inches of water and a lid. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, or just above a simmer, and let it cook for 3-4 hours or until the beans are soft and start falling apart. Alternately, you can combine everything in a slow-cooker and set it to medium and let it cook undisturbed for 6-8 hours.

(Skip this step if making Variation B.) Use a potato masher, or a metal ladle to smash some of the beans. Give the soup a good stir. This should still give you beans for chew, but the mashed bean will make the soup a bit thicker.

Serve Variation A in a bowl with a piece of cornbread crumbled into it and a spoon of chow-chow or sauerkraut for garnish. Serve just the beans from Variation B on a plate with the side dishes and use the cornbread to clean your plate. The typical side dishes would be sauerkraut and fried potatoes.

Cinnamon Cooper is a cat-loving, riled-up home cook in Chicago. She grew up in south-central Ohio, on the fringes of Appalachia. Her ancestors settled in the area hundreds of years ago, after fleeing religious persecution in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The homogeneity of her upbringing bored her, so her first visit to Chicago more than 20 years ago was eye- and mind-opening. She loves this beautiful, corrupt city. She wants it to be better for everyone.

Posted: Friday Feb 3,2017 04:27 PM In Soup Recipes

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