Print | Back to e-WV The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Beans and Cornbread

West Virginians of every social class enjoy a bowl of beans and cornbread from time to time, as the humble, high-fiber, high-protein dish moves up the food chain. The beans are pinto beans, called brown beans in some parts of the state. The bread is made the way cornbread is made throughout the Upper South, baked in cast iron with little or no sugar. The beans and bread are served hot from the kitchen, often with chopped or sliced onions on the side.

The simple meal requires hours of preparation. The dried beans are typically soaked overnight, then seasoned with salt and fatback pork and cooked through much of the next day. Pinto beans are not commonly grown in West Virginia and were not among our pioneer foods, but became available with the spread of stores as a cheap bulk or bagged commodity. Many mountaineers recall among their earliest memories the sight of a mother or grandmother picking over a pan of uncooked beans to remove the debris found in dried beans from the store. The beans were then rinsed in preparation for soaking.

Like biscuits and gravy, beans and cornbread are a folk food that have made the transition from family table to restaurant. Beans and cornbread, often very good, may now be found in restaurants across the state.

Written by Ken Sullivan