Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Bean in the Pot

These are two of my great- great grandmother's ollas, (cooking pots) she mainly used to prepare frijoles, (beans) in.

When she, her husband and their children first came to Texas, times were more than difficult. They sunk all their money into farm land and a long drought hit their part of the state soon after. They lost one child to whooping cough because there was no doctor nearby, and even if there had been one, there wouldn't have been money to pay him.

Most of their cattle died and the crops couldn't grow in the rocky soil that had mostly turned to dust in the absence of rain. My great- great grandfather found work where he could, but they were hanging on by their toenails. What kept them from starving was the lowly regarded pinto bean. Cheap to buy and easy to store, but most of all nutritious and filling, sometimes beans and tortillas were all they had to eat for weeks at a time.

In later years when their perseverance and hard work brought them a measure of affluence, she never discarded her ollas, and in fact never discarded frijoles from their diet, so thankful was she for how they had sustained her family in the lean times. She always said as long as she had a bean in the pot, she considered herself a wealthy woman. Since she was my grandmother's grandmother, she died long before I was born, but I've heard many stories of her strength and determination. I have her ollas in a prominent place in our family room, to remind us of where true wealth is found.

Frijole Recipe

1 pound dry pinto beans (Some folks use black beans)
12 cups water, divided
6 ounces salt pork, sliced
2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
1 cup chopped onion
4 to 6 whole fresh serrano peppers or 2 to 3 jalapeño peppers
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (loosely packed)

Makes 8 to 10 Servings

Sort and rinse beans. Place in a large pot; add 6 cups water. Soak overnight or for at least 6 hours in the refrigerator.

Drain beans. Add 6 cups fresh water and the salt pork. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour. Then add tomatoes, onion, peppers, garlic and salt. Cook until tender, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Add water occasionally to keep the beans soupy.

Adjust salt if needed. Add cilantro at serving time. Hold on low heat. Remove whole peppers and use as a garnish, or break one in two and leave in the pot if you want spice.

*Note- Some people prefer to use a quick boil method instead of soaking the beans overnight. That will also render beans to be soft, but the overnight soaking also helps negate one of the more potent side effects of beans; namely gas.

If you want a heartier dish, these are Frijoles Charros, or Cowboy Beans, that were often eaten by  the cowboys when they worked the open range.

Frijoles Charros

Serves 8


  • 1 pound of beans
  • 2 cloves of peeled garlic
  • 1 white onion (1/2 whole, 1/2 chopped)
  • 2 chopped tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro
  • Salt
  • Water
  • 1 teaspoon of powdered chicken broth
  • 1 sliced serrano or jalapeno pepper
  • 5 ounces of bacon cut into small pieces
  • 5 ounces of chorizo sausage (Mexican sausage) (If you can't get chorizo, any Italian sausage will do)
  • 5 ounces of pork rinds in small pieces (optional)


  1. Leave a pot of beans covered in water overnight.
  2. The following day replace the water - adding a sufficient amount to begin cooking.
  3. As the water reaches its boiling point, add the ½ onion and garlic cloves.
  4. Cook until done and tender, about an hour and a half to two and a half hours, then add salt according to taste.
  5. In a frying pan with a small amount of cooking oil, fry the bacon and chorizo for about 4 minutes.
  6. Add the chopped onion, the chili pepper, and tomato and continue to fry.
  7. Add the fried ingredients to the pot of beans.
  8. Once the mixture is brought to boil, add the cilantro, pork rinds and sausages. Season with salt and powdered chicken broth.
  9. Serve.


  1. Another sweet story. I am in awe of our ancestors who accomplished so much with so few resources. It's a constant inspiration. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

  2. Karen: Although it's not showing up here in my comments, I saw via email where you did leave one. I agree- the fortitude of our ancestors is truly amazing, especially when compared to how easy we have most things these days. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, as well!

  3. I love your rich family history and how everything has a story to it. It's so interesting. I wish our lives were like that now.

    Had to laugh about the gas thing, I heard that about lentils too...after I'd already made lentil soup and not soaked overnite!!

  4. Jamie: :LOL- all these little tricks certainly do help! I miss those rich things from the past in our lives today, too. I hope, though, one day, our grandkids and great grandkids will look back at us and say what neat people we were!

  5. I loved your story about your amazing great-grandmother, Shelly, and the recipes are great! Thanks so much!

  6. Dr. Kathy: Thanks so much! Happy Thanksgiving!

  7. My mom always thought we could weather about any adversity, as long as we still had beans and potatoes. :) Sounds like she and your grandmother would have liked each other.

    Happy Thanksgiving - Marsha

  8. Marsha: That's the spirit that made so many of them survive and prosper in those days- can't say that too many have that in them these days. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

  9. I enjoy beans of all kinds, Shelly, but my system can't tolerate foods that are too hot and spicy. The main thing that I notice time and again in your posts is how connected you are to your ancestors. I am ashamed to admit that I know very little about my own grandparents much less about great or great great grandparents. I think it points to a fundamental difference in our cultures. Many stories and lessons have been handed down through the generations of your family whereas in mine the trail has grown cold and few if any current family members have any interest in the family tree. It makes me sad to admit that my own grandchildren have never asked me a single question about my childhood, about my career or about anything else for that matter. They don't ask questions because they think they have all the answers.

  10. Oh, and I hope you and yours have a very happy Thanksgiving, dear Shelly!

  11. Shady: Beans aren't my favorites, but they are very nutritious and I suppose I should learn to eat more of them. I find that most of my cousins are not as interested in our heritage as I am, and I'm glad I had such good conversations with my grandparents and great grandparents before they died. I wish more kids would get connected in to what they came from. It would give them more of a sense of where they can go, I think.

    And Happy Thankssgiving to you and yours, friend!

  12. I like how your great-great-grandmother didn't forget her past and still valued the pinto beans and the importance in her life to sustain her family during those lean years. So neat you got her pots as a visible reminder of her fortitude! I hope you and your family have a Happy Thanksgiving Shelly!


  13. Hello Dearest Shelly,
    Oh, what a remider of fortitude from your ancestor. I respect you that you keep them the way you said, my friend.
    We have Tofu which we enjoy almost every day. And I think we should thank for all the food we have now♡♡♡
    Happy Thanksgiving to you, xoxo Orchid*

  14. Your great great great(?)grandmother sounds wonderful, and what an honor to have her ollas!

  15. Betty: I do wish we all had more of that pioneering spirit of fortitude in us. We need it again as a nation.

  16. Orchid: I love tofu, too! Very nutritious food. No matter what food we have, as long as we have some, we should be thankful- I agree! Thank you, dear friend, Orchid!

  17. Missed Periods: I feel grateful I have something of hers!

  18. You know Shelly, we all appreciate how you answer all of us personally, you're the greatest at that! I try, but I don't always...sometimes I do the email thing and sometimes do the comment thing like you and sometimes, nothing happens.

    Anyway, thank you!!
    I knew last night, I was going to post about pots and pans and thought how ironic and meaningless my pots and pans are/were compared to your ancesters!!

  19. OK, I just linked this post in my pots and pans post!

  20. Jamie: I loved your pots and pans post! You are always, always so sweet to me! Have a terrific Thanksgiving- especially with your new things to cook in!

  21. Oh, bless your grandmother's grandmother. What a wonderful, strong woman she must've been.

    Happy Thanksgiving, Shell-belle. :-)


    p.s. Didn't know about the overnight-soaking thing cutting back on the gas!! This is EXACTLY the kind of information that makes me glad I got up!

  22. Pearl: Those little odd bits of info can really prove to be valuable! Hope your Thanksgiving will be terrific and not too cold up there!

  23. My grandparents on my father's side went through some very hard times during the depression. Grandma would sometimes pick dandelions to cook. She knew how to make poultices for medicine. They couldn't afford a doctor either. It is good for children to know these stories and it is wonderful for you to share them.

  24. Those are sacred pots. Thank you for sharing this recipe and the story behind the beautiful pottery. I'm always deeply reflective when I hear stories like these. It reminds me to slow down and be mindful of the blessings in my life.

  25. Belle: There is so much wisdom from the past that I'm afraid we've lost. It's a true shame.

  26. Jenny: Thank you- I feel the same way about them. We all have so much more to be thankful for that what we realize most of the time.

  27. Awe, your grandparents too did go through hard times? They must have been very strong and hardworking. Too bad they lost their child to whooping cough. Those days a lot of people lost their kids to conditions, we are immunized against.
    We have cooking pots in India. They are made of clay and are called "Haandi". People used to refer to them as poor people's sauce pans, as they cost very little. I now realzied that food cooked in them was more delicious than food cooked in our stainless steel pans.
    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family:)

  28. Munir: How interesting about the Haandi- I am going to google it so I can see them. And yes, I do agree that the clay adds a better flavor to the food being cooked in it. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  29. Yay....A new recipe and one that doesn't include turkey! Blessings to you on Thanksgiving and all those dear to your heart.

  30. Sush: I'm kind of turkeyed out myself! Thank you and wishing the same wonderful tings for you and yours!


I love to hear from you! I also love to comment back.