Mawmaw’s Mythic Pinto Beans

For some reason I frequently find myself writing about food. 

And not just writing about it. Reading about it too. And talking about it…a lot.

Maybe it’s because food is essential to everyone’s survival and therefore one of the greatest common denominators. Maybe it’s because so much of our culture and heritage and memory is wrapped around it. Maybe it’s because I love to cook. Heck, it’s more likely because I love to eat. 

Who knows? Whatever it is, this week I’m thinking about (and cooking) pinto beans. I was going to write about pinto beans, but then I realized I already did! There’s even a recipe. That’s what happens when you have a blog for 11+ years – you sometimes forget what you wrote! 

But today, as I was stirring my beans to make sure they were making the perfect, “creamy” gravy, I was thinking about how food takes us back home. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cooked dinner for my husband and he’s said something like, Mawmaw made the best pinto beans. I’d eat a whole plate of just pinto beans and cornbread. Or he talks about her fried pies or biscuits. Sometimes it’s just her cooking in general – how she’d get up before daylight to cook breakfast for Pawpaw before he went to work on the railroad, how she’d can the fresh vegetables she grew, how she’d walk to the nearby butcher shop just a little ways down the road. You know it’s not there anymore. I wonder if I could find it again.

These stories of cooking turn into descriptions of their house and the things in it. There was a little porch on the front and the kitchen was in the back. I hear stories of spending the night and playing in the yard. How he’d help out mowing the grass and doing other chores. But no matter how the stories meander, they always come back to one thing – nobody but nobody cooked like Mawmaw. 

I’m sorry I never got to meet Mawmaw or enjoy her food, which, by all family accounts, was next-level good. But through the stories I’ve heard told and retold and told one more time, I feel like we would have hit it off famously, like she would have embraced me as one of her own. I wonder if she would have shared her recipes with me. I wonder if she even had recipes. Would we have cooked together? What would she have taught me?  

I guess I’ll never know. Even so, I still can’t help thinking about her every time I cook a pot of pinto beans. And I understand that no matter what I do – no matter how “creamy” the gravy or how well-seasoned the pot is – they’ll never be as good as Mawmaw’s mythic beans. But I do know one thing. This pot of pinto beans will not only feed the body, it will nourish the soul with happy memories of times gone by. 

And that’s good enough for me. 

Just a few more things:

Speaking of food, mark your calendar for the first ever Birmingham FOOD+Culture Festival on October 13 at Pepper Place. I’ll be there! What about you?

Nurse Ratched died last week. She was 88. I had no idea Louise Fletcher was from Birmingham and attended Ramsey High School!

Hurricane Ian seems to be headed toward Florida! Here’s a handy preparedness list. Y’all stay safe!

6 thoughts on “Mawmaw’s Mythic Pinto Beans

  1. I am making these beans tonight. My Mama cooked a pot of beans weekly- mostly plain with a little fatback she fan- cut. Pintos, Great Northerns, Big Limas, Speckled Butter beans, or Black-eyed peas (we considered those beans too). Daddy liked ‘em plain but didn’t mind a little “meat”. I’m trying to decide if I want to try the spices. Will probably wait till I do Chili! But Audrey, thanks for the nudge to my memories!
    Fran Hopkins

    1. Thank you for sharing your memories!! These have a little Conecuh sausage but I mainly make them meatless too. I added a little chili powder and cumin to these too. Not so much that it tastes like chili though…just enough for a little kick. Enjoy!!

  2. How timely! Just served bean soup to family last night. Started with a 15 bean mixture and doctored it up with onion, celery, carrot, diced tomatoes, chili powder,ham, and sausage bits. Served with a squeeze of lemon for a fresh taste. Guess I am the Mawmaw in this Oregon family. Time will tell if this soup is remembered as heart warming or horrible.
    No leftovers though.

  3. Just found your site while looking for a fantastic pinto bean recipe. I love Cracker Barrel’s pinto beans, but I found your recipe and am going to try it. I love reading your memories. I can’t “friend” you on anything because I’m not on social media, but I’ll be sure to come back here to your site to continue to read about your walks down memory lane as they mimic those of my own. Thank you so much!

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