One of my earliest memories is of sitting at a table with my mother, father and little sister. We are in a one-room, second-floor flat on Elm Street in downtown Cincinnati in the mid-1930s. All day, Mother has watched over a simmering pot of beans with a pig hock added for flavor. My father has come in from his timekeeper job on the WPA and we are having about the cheapest supper possible in the midst of the Great Depression. I have a plateful of beans and a tiny bit of the small amount of meat that is on a pig hock (my father gets the biggest portion of meat and my mother claims to love chewing around on the bone). The beans are steaming and the teaspoon or so of meat is flavorful – I love it! It was said in my family that you weren’t an Applegate if you didn’t love beans, so I guess I qualified as a full-fledged member of my father’s side of the family.
As time went on and my father moved to better jobs with the City of Cincinnati and then Dayton Acme (a World War II defense plant), there was more money in my mother’s food budget and she stopped using the mostly-fat pig hocks and either threw in a pork chop or two to cook with the beans or had crisp bacon or fried ham on the side. This was the only time my father ate pork … along with his beans topped with chopped onion and a lot of black pepper.
By the time my future husband started coming to the house for meals, Mother had added a big cast iron skillet full of fried potatoes to the menu. It was his favorite supper. After we were married, I continued to have this meal one night a week. Every time I hear the John Denver song, “Back Home Again” and the line about “supper on the stove” and the wife who felt the baby move, I think about my young husband coming home to an expectant wife in our little apartment with the windows all steamed up and a big white and red graniteware pot of beans simmering on the range.
My four children didn’t inherit their parents’ love of a bean supper and I got out of the habit of making it. But now that I’m alone, I crave the beans of my childhood, especially in the fall and winter. I make a healthier, easier version with a slow cooker.
GREAT NORTHERN CROCKPOT BEANS
- 1/2 lb. Great Northern dry beans
- 6 cups cold water*
- 1-1/2 tsp. ham flavored soup base (L. B. Jamison’s)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Place the dry beans cold water in the slow cooker. *I use this amount of water to insure that I’ll have enough broth to make dumplings. Cook on low overnight – approximately 8 hours. Add the ham flavoring, then taste before adding salt and pepper.
I was the only one in the family who liked dumplings with my beans and I used to make a one-person serving. This works very well for me now when I want to make a meal just for myself.
DUMPLINGS FOR ONE
- 1/4 cup of My Biscuit Mix**
- 1-1/2 Tblsp. (approx.) of cold water
In a small bowl, stir the biscuit mix and water together to make a thick, moist dough.
Heat about 1 cup of bean broth and 1 cup of beans in a small pot to boiling. Drop the dough into the boiling mixture by the tablespoonful, making three dumplings.
Lower the heat to simmering, cover the pot and continue simmering for 10 minutes without lifting the lid. Note: The white and red graniteware lid is from my original 1952 set.
Serve immediately with chopped onion and a grating of black pepper. A small serving of meat is good, but not necessary (to me, at least). Today, I happened to be browning hot sausage to freeze for my Thanksgiving stuffing and kept back enough to make myself a small grilled patty. It tasted wonderful. This is truly my soul food.
**MY BISCUIT MIX
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 Tblsp. baking powder
- 1/3 cup vegetable shortening (Crisco)
Mix together the flour, salt and baking powder. Cut in the vegetable shortening. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator until ready to use.
This is good for making individual servings of biscuits, pancakes … and dumplings.