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My Granny’s Pole Beans

Gena Berry, our recipe guru on this book, cried when she tasted these beans. Gena said it was like her mamaw was standing right there next to the stove. I love my granny’s food because it tastes like there’s love in it. It tastes genuine and heartfelt. It’s hard to make food that tastes like that. You have to believe in something more than just following the steps of a recipe. You have to believe that food can transcend a moment, like you’re in a time machine. That usually happens with the simplest foods, like braised pole beans. Why bother to put such a basic recipe in a chef’s cookbook? Because when it’s done right, it’s a helluva lot more important than just a pot of cooked beans. As for the recipe itself, I will say first that your cooking liquid has to be well seasoned because the beans will never absorb the entirety of the seasoning in that liquid. Second, you are cooking these with fatback, so skim off the fat before serving them so the beans don’t taste greasy. Most important, when they’re done, take the beans off the heat and let them cool to room temperature in the cooking liquid. If you don’t have time to do this step, pick a different recipe. Some things benefit from time. And that time will come back to you in soulful, satisfying flavor. For the beans, don’t dig out your super-tender haricot verts for this recipe. You want older, more rugged, fibrous beans like Blue Lake, Romano, Rattlesnake, or Provider beans. I use an heirloom variety called Cherokee Trail of Tears. This variety is on the Slow Foods “Ark of Taste” list because it’s in danger of being lost to history from disuse. If you come across some of these beans, buy them, braise them, and enjoy them.

 

Enough for 6 folks

 

Pole beans

1 pound, strings and tips removed

 

Onion

1 baseball-size, quartered

 

Garlic

1 clove, mashed

 

Smoked fatback

2 ounces, cut into 1-inch cubes

 

Salt

1 teaspoon

 

Dried red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon

 

1 Bay leaf

 

Chicken stock

about 4 cups

 

Apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons

 

  1. Cut the pole beans into 1-inch pieces and put them in a Dutch oven. Add the onion, garlic, fatback, salt, red pepper flakes, bay leaf, and enough chicken stock to generously cover the ingredients. Cover the pot and bring the beans to a boil. Cut the heat down and simmer, covered, until a knife goes straight through a bean with no resistance, about 30 minutes. The beans should be quite tender but not mushy. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Taste and add salt if needed. Uncover and let the beans cool to room temperature in their liquid. This is where Granny got it right: She’d start the beans early in the morning, set them aside, and let them finish cooking as they cooled down. It’s a slow-cooking method that most folks don’t think about today. But the extra time off the heat brings the flavors together like no other method can. Be sure to make this recipe at least 2 hours in advance so the beans have time to cool in the cooking liquid. Then just skim the fat from the surface and reheat the beans before serving.