Way back in the old days, soon after I married The Engineer, I had an occasion to make ham-n-beans. Seeing how The Engineer was one of those crazy canucks, he'd never heard of such a dish. The man ate baked beans out of the can for breakfast with ham for crying out loud. You know the stuff here in the Midwest we start a recipe with to take to picnics and potlucks? Very strange. Anyway, sadly, I made the most bland tasting beans you can imagine. I mean that ham had no flavor to it whatsoever. As we sat at the dinner table that night he politely didn't make a single negative comment, he simply asked "Dear, how often will we be eating this dish?" I'm guessing he was praying the answer wouldn't be once a week. Ever since, I've left ham-n-beans off the menu even though I craved them so.
Then the other day, at the blacksmith association meeting, they were serving ham-n-beans. He ate them, and genuinely seemed to enjoy them. I thought to myself, AHA! He's been here long enough now to develop a taste for real beans. Then I ran across a bona-fide cast iron bean pot in an antique store. They were selling it for a song. I remembered Dad always made his beans in a pot just like this and nobody made beans as well as Dad. I brought it home, cleaned it up, seasoned it and set off to make some real beans since I just happened to have a bunch of leftover ham. Dad took his bean recipe with him when he passed away, but I can remember the flavor well. I started doing a little ham-n-bean research and finally put together a recipe I figured would be a good place to begin replicating Dad's beans.
I started out with one pound of a great northern and pinto bean mix. Soak 'em in water over night. I chose those 'cause they were on sale and this recipe is all about being frugal. Dad loved The Frugal Gourmet.
Cook six slices of bacon right in the bean pot. This helps with the seasoning of the cast iron. Good cast iron needs to develop over time to become non-stick. Most believe it helps the flavor too. Remove the bacon, crumble it and set it aside.
Drain all but a smidge of the drippings, then saute about half a chopped onion and two cups of ham just until the onion is tender.
Then add some chicken broth. I happened to have about three cups handy in the fridge. Add water to what ever broth you have to equal six cups of liquid total. Add the crumbled bacon, the beans, 1 1/2 tablespoons of garlic powder, one tablespoon of onion powder, one teaspoon pepper and two tablespoons of dried parsley.
Stir it once and leave it alone. You should not stir beans. I don't know why I just remember you're not supposed to touch 'em. Bring it to a boil then cover and reduce to a simmer. Let it cook for a couple of hours.
I'm pretty sure it's a federal law that you have to serve it with cornbread. So mix up a batch of cornbread, bake it in a cast iron skillet and serve it with butter and a little maple syrup. The saltiness of the beans paired with the sweetness of the syrup is a match made in heaven, let me tell ya.
This time The Engineer claimed it was the polar opposite of the beans he ate years ago. He claimed he'd eat these beans every night of the week. And even went as far to say they were better than the beans we had at the smithy. And I'll even throw in a confession here. These beans are even better than my Dad's!
So, how do you eat your cornbread? Plain or fancied up?