Historian and Author Tom Perry's thoughts on history and anything that comes to mind.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Pinto Beans and Cornbread

"The North thinks it knows how to make corn bread, but this is gross superstition. Perhaps no bread in the world is as good as Southern corn bread, and perhaps no bread in the world is quite so bad as the Northern imitation of it. The North seldom tries to fry chicken, and this is well; the art cannot be learned north of the line of Mason and Dixon..." –Mark Twain

            How do you like your “Pinto Beans and Cornbread”? After seeing this Mark Twain quote on Facebook, I harkened back to the bucolic memories of my youth. Specifically, the lunch Bertie Guynn prepared for his “hired hands” when we came out of the tobacco fields every late summer and early fall. While I do not seem to remember the heat, the nicotine sickness, the back pain or that black tobacco gum all over my hands and body, I do remember how good lunch tasted in the late 1960s and early 1970s before we all went off the Mount Airy to become textile magnets.

            Funny how the mind will romanticize memories even when you know how awful to work in a tobacco field under the hot summer sun. Every year at “first primings” most people got the nicotine sickness, which was not pleasant. I never got that sick I think because you can look at me and I sweat, which I believe allowed my body to get rid of the poison. I remember my boyhood friends being deathly ill from their first trip into the fields every year.

            There is a place on the Theodore and Bertie Guynn’s farm we called the strawberry patch because they grew naturally there when was not a terraced field of tobacco on the side of the hill. You can see the strawberry patch from the Ararat Highway when you pass the Guynns headed toward Ararat on the left because it has an incredible view of the Groundhog Mountain. I always thought it would be a great place to build a cabin to see that view of the Blue Ridge Mountains every morning would be pure inspiration.

            Back to the beans. Bertie would let them soak overnight and then slowly cook them all morning as we were in the fields working with some pork for seasoning. My mother would put some brown sugar in hers. Bertie would nearly burn the made from scratch cornbread, but when you broke it open you could see the steam rising from the bread. Now, I liked to mix mine bread and beans together and put some ketchup on them. I put ketchup on everything. Some people like to garnish their pintos with onions or chow chow, the latter being my favorite.

            We would come in from the field and there is this enormous spread of food would be spread out under a big tree in the backyard. I remember the corn tasting so fresh because it was from a field on another part of the farm. We would eat this enormous lunch and nearly pass out for a nap under the trees before returning to the barn to house the tobacco we primed that morning. You ain’t from around here if you say picked tobacco.

            As we grew older and face the mortality as I have with cancer over the last year, it is fun to romanticize the memories of youth. I do not remember the heat or the just hard work tobacco was in Ararat, Virginia, growing up, but I will never forget how good those pinto beans and corn bread tasted.


  1. Great blog, Tom. I can almost taste it just reading this. By the way, I like my pinto beans and cornbread plain -- no ketch-up, nothing. Well, sometimes I'll soak the cornbread in butter before crumbling up in the beans. When I was younger I might spread a bit of raw chopped onions, but you know how it is...getting older sometimes changes how certain food agrees with you, so no more onions on that!

  2. I know it is magnate. This is me trying to be funny textile magnet versus textile magnate. ;-)