Beans and cornbread are one of those Southern combinations that is so beloved and fundamental, it seems shocking to consider that there’s a world out there where some have never had it—or worse, never heard of it!
A big pot of slow-cooked beans, a hot iron pan of fresh-baked cornbread—it is a comfort and joy so basic, like the smell of baking bread, like strawberries and cream, like melted cheese—that our little hearts just ache at the thought that it didn’t make frequent appearances on just everyone’s childhood dinner tables.
I’m certainly not the first nor only blog-faring Southerner to sing the praises of good ol’ beans and cornbread. The Pioneer Woman (Ree) remembers what an old Italian waiter once told her about spaghetti and Parmesan. “A spaghetti without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze!” he said. She feels the same way about beans without cornbread, although admits it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
Homesick Texan (Lisa) offers recipes for pinto beans three ways, and notes that cornbread isn’t just perfect for soaking up that delectable bean juice (I call it potlikker, even though that term is usually reserved for the juice from a pot of greens), it also combines with the beans to form a complete protein.
I’ve made a pan of cornbread to accompany black beans and red beans, but there’s something especially perfect about the combo with pintos in particular. I can’t argue with a quote from her mom: “Pinto beans are close to a perfect food.”
Maybe that’s why Grady Spears chose pintos to throw into his Yaller Cornbread recipe in A Cowboy in the Kitchen (full disclosure, my dad is the co-author). “Yaller bread” was a catch-all term used by cowboys back in the day to refer to cornbread as we know it along with “corn dodgers” or “hoecakes” (the closest survivor of which is the hush puppy).
Pintos or not, the beans and cornbread combo offers so much room for variation (both beans and cornbread themselves can take on any number of flavor profiles) that it’s mighty hard to bore of. There’s something about the way the soft, buttery cornbread just melts into your bowl of beans—and especially that mouthful of the two together—that warms the body and soul to the core.
As an added bonus, you can feed a family of four (heartily!) for a few bucks with it, making it as economical as it is wonderful. I love this quote from Lisa: “When I was little, I figured that we ate beans all the time because we were poor. But when our economic situation turned for the better we continued to eat beans. Why? Because we just enjoyed eating them so much.”
For all these reasons and more, I’ve got a pot on the stove and a pan in the oven at the very moment I write this (the aromas have proven to be quite the distraction) and offer with affection and heartfelt gratitude this ode to the simple pleasure of beans and cornbread.