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Beans and Cornbread: The Meal that Means America

Beans and cornbread is a classic comfort food, beloved throughout the South for its flavor and ability to fill the stomach after a long day's work. This simple dish is emblematic of everything America stands for, from feeding hard-working coal miners in Appalachia to being a symbol of success after the first space shuttle was launched into the galaxy.

Where Did Beans and Cornbread Originate?

Beans and cornbread are a quintessential Southern food and are believed to have originated in Appalachia. They're especially popular in West Virginia, where they were a staple amongst the many small towns that subsisted on the coal industry.

Also called soup beans, these dried beans were a staple during cold winters, perfect because of their inexpensive price and long shelf life. Beans and cornbread is ideal as a filling, comforting dish full of fiber and carbohydrates, to replenish workers after a long day in the mines.

This tasty dish typically includes yellow cornmeal, bacon grease, dried beans, grits and fatback. The pot of beans will simmer in a cast-iron pot on the stovetop all afternoon long, allowing the cook to go about his or her day before enjoying them for supper.

Beans and Cornbread at NASA

Although NASA may be a far cry from the coal mines of West Virginia, beans and cornbread have their place in this community as well. From the very first shuttle that was launched into space, the launch control team has always celebrated with a meal of beans and cornbread.

As the story goes, when the first shuttle flight was completed in 1981, one of the test directors brought in beans and cornbread. When the lift-off was completed successfully, the team joyfully ate the meal.

This practice continued and became a beloved tradition, and these days, 60 gallons of beans are made every time the NASA team launches another shuttle. In fact, they even have a catchphrase. The phrase "Beans Are Go!" means that the shuttle has been a success, and the team and relax and celebrate.

What Do You Eat With Beans and Cornbread?

Beans and cornbread as as versatile as they are American. The dish is often served with side dishes like potatoes, chopped onions, chow-chow or greens like boiled cabbage or sauerkraut.

Although pinto beans are traditionally used in this main dish, beans and cornbread can also be made with white beans, butter beans, red beans or black-eyed peas depending on what you have on hand. No matter what type of beans and side dish one uses, it's hard to beat the combo of crispy homemade cornbread and warm smoky beans.

The Pioneer Woman Beans and Cornbread Recipe

To make the beans portion of this classic dish, you need thick bacon, salt pork or ham hock, which you'll simmer in the pot or slow cooker along with the beans. For flavor, add garlic, salt, black pepper, red pepper, or chili powder. Garnish with grated cheese, chopped onions, jalapeños, sour cream and cilantro for an extra pop.

As for the cornbread, you'll preheat oven and then combine the wet ingredients and dry ingredients. Bake the cornbread batter until golden brown and crispy, about 20 minutes. You can use an iron skillet, muffin pan or any other oven-safe pan.

Here's the full recipe to enjoy this old-school, American dish!