My Mom's ham and beans

I'm back! Yes, it's been some time, but forgive me, I've been studying the law, and that's rather time consuming. It's a rare day I get to cook or bake at all, let alone blog about it. I have so many posts ready to go with pictures, but at this point, I need to wait until summer to write most of the recipes. Because really, you're not going to be making an airy summer dessert like a pavlova in February. But you will be making something along the lines of my mom's ham and beans, and you'll be glad you're doing this, for quite a few reasons: it's warm, comforting food, almost like a stew; it has a total of four ingredients plus salt and pepper. No really.; it's adaptable; it's cheap. And when I say cheap, I mean it. We're talking at least eight big bowls of soup for a total of around $5. Now that's economical. Any of my law school colleagues reading this blog will surely agree this is the time for economizing. So, let's get to it.

One of the many things I love about my mother is her delicious meals, mostly made without a recipe. I called her up and asked for her ham and beans recipe, which always hit the spot on a cold day when I was a kid. Here is what she said, and what I did. I love that there are no measurements here. My mom cooks almost exclusively this way, and everything she makes is amazing  - just terrific Midwestern food. It's very impressive, and worth emulating.

You'll need to plan ahead on this; the beans need to soak overnight. You need: beans, a ham hock or ham bone or both, water, a stock pot, a large yellow onion, pepper, and possibly salt.

Go to the store and get your one pound bag of beans. I got great northern beans. You could also get navy beans. According to  my (not in-depth) research, they're pretty much interchangeable, though navy beans are smaller and cook more slowly. Apparently, they hold their shape better than great northerns, which may give you more of a soup and less of a stew. Rinse the beans in a colander (mom pro-tip) to remove possible stones or other non-bean detritus. Put in a large stock pot and cover with a lot of water. Those beans are going to expand. Leave them to soak overnight.

Wake up to seemingly more beans than you had the night before. Some people rinse the beans to remove the starch that has leached out from them, but I think that starch does your final product a favor, so decide what works best for you.

At this point you need your ham hock. They're kind of ugly, and it's probably best not to really think about what part of the pig you're throwing in the pot. These are smoked, and available at meat counters generally. I suggest getting yours from a good meat counter or a meat market, like my beloved Gartner's, which I have mentioned in the past. I got this one from New Seasons. The larger the hock, the more meat will end up in your beans, so purchase accordingly. You can also throw a ham bone in there, though there is less meat on a ham bone. I have used ham bones in soups in the past, and really like the flavor they impart. If I make these again some time soon, I will use a medium sized hock and a small bone. Pork it up, I say. Throw that in there with the beans.

Chop up your onion. Throw that in the pot. Get out your pepper grinder and grind a hearty amount of pepper into the pot as well. No salt yet, wait until you're done cooking, because the ham might impart enough, and no one wants overly salty ham and beans. Bring those beans to a boil.

Reduce the heat, anywhere between a 2 and 4, depending on your electric stove, or low for gas, and simmer for 3-4 hours. Hours. Yes, I did just write that. You're reading along thinking, this sounds great! I'm making this tomorrow! But that was before you knew what a commitment you were making to these beans. So yes, it's a weekend thing, maybe. It's worth it. The thing you must remember to do over this expanse of time is to stir those beans on a regular basis. Every half hour at the minimum. Make sure you are getting the beans off the bottom of the pot, because they will stick. When the beans are basically disinigrating and very soft, and the hock is falling apart, you're pretty much ready.

 I know, this picture is kind of icky.
With a fork, remove the ham hock to a plate, and use a couple forks to pull the (very soft, very tender, very tasty) meat from the hock and return it to the pot. Stir again, taste, salt to taste if necessary. You're pretty much done, and now you have meals for days! Ham and beans freeze well, and this post reminds me that I need to freeze my leftovers promptly, because really, no two people can eat this many beans before they go bad.

Alex and I were discussing the dish as we were having it for dinner last night, and noting that smoked sausage could be a fine addition to this meal (I'd add it maybe halfway through cooking), or possibly some fresh herbs. I liked thyme with it. Rosemary was a little strong.

You know you want to spend a Sunday afternoon stirring a pot of beans on the stove for hours on end, while scents of deliciousness waft through your home. In between stirs, call your own awesome mother. Now, get to it, and then, eat!

I'm glad to be back! I will try to get back to it, but forgive me, the reading and studying, it's epic.


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