Back in Miracle in a Dry Season, beans and cornbread is the first meal Perla makes for the town of Wise, WV, that somehow feeds them all . . . with a little left over. Growing up, beans and cornbread was a standby meal for feeding a family or a crowd, sure to fill us up and leave some for later in the week.

My mom spent hours soaking and stewing beans with a big ole, meaty ham bone. But somehow mine have never been as good. Until I found a recipe for crockpot beans that I tweaked to suit me. I was highly skeptical about putting dry beans in the crock pot and coming out with a dish that wasn’t underdone or crunchy (the worst!). But I was wrong. These are the BEST beans! And beyond easy. Of course, the meal isn’t complete without a cake of crusty cornbread. No shortcuts here—drag out that cast iron skillet and do it right! Of course, if you’re going to make West Virginia cornbread, you’ll add sugar—something that makes most Southerners cringe!

1 lb package dried northern beans
Ham—could be a meaty bone, hocks, or diced ham, aim for 8-12 ounces of meat
1 or 2 bay leaves
6 cups water
salt & pepper to taste

Rinse the beans and sort through them for any stones or bad beans. Add to crock pot (that’s right—NO SOAKING). If you’re using a ham bone or hocks, add them now along with the bay leaves and water. Put the lid on and cook for 8 hours on low heat. If you’re using diced ham, add it in the last two hours of cooking. After 8 hours, remove any bones, shred the meat, and add salt and pepper to taste.

1 ½ cups yellow, self-rising cornmeal
½ cup self-rising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 T sugar
¼ cup vegetable oil – divided
2 eggs
1 cup of buttermilk

Add 2 tablespoons of oil to the cast iron skillet and preheat in a 400 degree oven. You want the oil to get HOT, but not smoke. Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Whisk together wet ingredients (remaining oil, eggs, and buttermilk) and pour into the well. Mix it up just until everything is combined. Pour batter into hot skillet—it should sizzle and form a crust around the edge almost instantly. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Peek and take it out as soon as it’s golden brown.