Beans knocked cornbread outta sight.

Dear Friends,

The Christmas ham is a gift to behold, rotund and glistening at the center of the holiday table, a prize that compels all eyes to watch the host for the cue to dig in. When it’s gone, and every plate is bare but slick and moist with pools of ham juice, the cook has already begun to dream about the bewitching flavor that resides deep within the bone, which will soon season a pot of something wonderful. Navy beans were my choice, and so it was that we had beans and cornbread for supper on the fifth day of Christmas.

As soon as I walked in the door from work, I could smell them and our kitchen felt instantly warmer and homier. “How are they?” I asked, barely containing my excitement.  “I don’t know,” Mr. Mom said, an inexplicable response to a woman who lives to answer that question with every English superlative she knows (or a couple of French ones, depending on her mood and the dish at hand). Had I been presiding over the stove, I would have tasted the beans a half dozen times already and predicted their exact arrival time at pot o’ perfection.

I spooned a sample into a bowl and blew on it while I examined the beans’ texture. They looked as wonderful as they smelled, even though the soup was a little on the thin side. “Let’s take the lid off and turn up the heat,” I suggested. “They need to thicken.”

While the soup needed some time to cook off, the flavor needed nothing. One taste and I knew they were as good as they could be: tender, ever so salty, brimming with ham chunks and tiny, translucent bits of pork fat, and mildly flavored with morsels of onion, celery and a bay leaf.

I stood in my kitchen, warmed by a small red bowl of Mr. Mom’s supper, and my thoughts drifted to my mother who could cook a pot of beans like no person I’d ever known.

Beans and cornbread were a weekly staple at our house during my youth. Of course beans were cheap, making them a perfect dish for a modest budget like ours, but they were also easy for a busy woman to tend without being tied to the stove. My mother was a property manager with an office across from our apartment, so in the days before Crock-Pots became the working-mother’s little helper, beans were a convenient supper for us.

Like me, Mom preferred Navy over Pinto beans. And she always fried up a skillet of potatoes as a side dish with her beans and cornbread because you can’t call yourself a Southern cook without at least three starches in every meal.  Sometimes, if a neighbor had enjoyed a lucky day at the lake, we’d have fried fish, too – a culinary superfecta straight from heaven! I loved all of my mother’s dishes. Her meat loaf, salmon patties, and chicken and noodles were among the best in town, but her humble pot of beans always brought a smile to my face. Tender, warm, and floating in a bath of ham-flavored broth, her beans were the ultimate comfort food for a girl who learned at a young age that love equals a home-cooked meal served hot at the peak of hunger.

My mother died a little more than a year ago and I still miss her every day. But thanks to her example and devotion, I learned to cook. And I learned to love it, and to love others through the act of it, in appreciation for the woman whose beans and cornbread were the flavor of my youth.

With gratitude {while licking my lips},

Joan the Hambone

Beans and Cornbread had a fight, Beans knocked Cornbread outta sight, Cornbread said “Now that’s all right, meet me on the corner tomorrow night.”

— Jordan Louis, Beans and Cornbread