After I got married and moved across the country my Aunt Hen confessed, “When you were still at home I got so sick of green beans.” Of course there was no denying that it was my fault. Green beans were my favorite vegetable and I would eat them every night if she would cook them for me. More often than she probably should have, she did.
Cooking in my own kitchen I continued to eat a lot of green beans. When I first began to cook for myself I was happy enough to eat them straight from a can and warmed slightly. In time I learned how much I like fresh green beans in salads or cooked crisp tender with a simple dressing. I also discovered that frozen green beans are delicious steamed with a dash of sesame oil or soy sauce.
Eventually I discovered lots of different ways to enjoy green beans. What I couldn’t seem to reproduce was the wonderful flavor of my Aunt Hen’s Southern Style Green Beans, flavored with down-home ingredients and cooked slow until they were permeated with the essence of those seasonings.
Simply a Matter of Time
Really what I think it comes down to is a matter of time. The ingredients are simple enough: green beans (canned or fresh), bacon grease and/or ham scraps, a little onion and ground pepper and maybe a spoonful of sugar. Then you cook them and cook them and.... longer than I used to have the patience for, about 2 hours for canned green beans and up to four hours for fresh. So put them on early, before you start preparing anything else and then let them slowly simmer on the back of the stove while you work.
While these green beans cook for a long, long time, they are simple and undemanding to prepare. Still, you should be warned: they are nothing special to look at. They can be dressed up in a pretty bowl for special occasions but whether they are or not they are still well appreciated, in an understated way, at my family's table. As plates are filled everyone will take a serving and leftovers will be hard to come by.
At my house these Southern Style Green Beans are a constant and can be found at every holiday meal: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, and Derby Day. While they may not be the star of the table their presence is both expected and enjoyed. They remain one of my very favorite comfort foods. While they do take their time getting ready, the wonderful old-fashioned southern style flavor is worth it ....
and, believe me, they go with everything!
Southern Green Beans
Adapted from “We Make You Kindly Welcome: Recipes From the Trustee’s House Daily Fare” at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky
4 15-ounce cans cut green beans
½ teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon bacon grease
2 Tablespoons minced onion
1 Tablespoon ham scraps (if you have them)
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper (or to taste)
Mix together in a large pot and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to low. Slow-simmer uncovered, adding liquid if necessary, for two hours or until dinner is served.
This recipe can also be used with 2½ to 3 pounds of fresh green beans cleaned and cut into 1 to 2 inch pieces. Cover beans with water. Add other ingredients, and salt to taste, then cook slowly until very tender, approximately 4 hours.
Serve and enjoy!