Growing up in southeast Missouri we ate lots of ham and beans. Luckily, except for my younger sister, we all loved them. My dad especially enjoyed them, so mama would make them all the time. She would fix either Great Northern, commonly called "white beans" or pinto, also called "brown beans". I love them both. I fix them often too and because it is hard to make just a few beans, I have a couple of people I share them with when I cook them. My brother-in-law, Gary, is the main one who gets some of my beans (he is even more crazy about them than I am!), but there are also a couple of people I work with who think my beans are among the best they've eaten.
Beans have to have a side of cornbread to eat with them. I don't know why the two taste so good together, but they do. I also like to eat a wedge of raw onion with a bowl of beans and some folks like pickled hot peppers or pepper vinegar with their beans as well. One woman I work with even has to have piccalilli with her beans.
I do admit to being a bit picky about how I cook my beans and it is usually a two day affair for me. I also find that I get the best results when I use my crockpot, as beans are something that can't be rushed and turn out the best when done very slowly. Please note, that it is difficult to give exact proportions for this, as there are variables beyond control, but no matter what happens, you will rarely come up with beans that aren't tasty! Just be sure to make a lot of cornbread to go with them!
4-6 good sized chunks of ham shank or
a good meaty ham bone
water to cover, about 1 1/2 quarts
Simmer the ham shanks or ham bone about 8 hrs. on high, until the meat is ready to fall off the bone. Remove the shanks or bone and any meat from the broth and refrigerate. Later the meat will be taken off the bone and shredded into bite sized chunks, with any bone, skin or fat discarded. Chill the broth and when ready to cook the beans, remove any solidified fat and discard.
2 pounds of beans, either Great Northern or Pinto or 1 pound of each
The night before cooking the beans, rinse and pick out any bad beans and then place in a deep bowl and add twice as much water as needed to cover them. Allow to soak over night. Then next day, rinse and drain the beans, then place in the crockpot with the defatted ham broth and simmer on high 6-8 hours. You want the beans to be very soft, splitting and bean broth to turn milky and no longer clear. The texture of the beans with be almost creamy. In fact, you will be concerned that they are overcooked. Add the cooked ham meat you have removed from the bones. Allow to sit a few minutes to heat the ham up.
Now fill a bowl with your hot cornbread, crumbled into chunks, top with the beans and lots of the bean soup, either have a chunk of raw onion on the side or top the beans with chopped raw onion and dig in! Some good eating here!