Nanny’s Beans and Taters

A bowl piled high with mashed potatoes and a medley of mixed beans.

A Taste of Wild - Blue Ridge Mountains

Jon and Aubrey return back east to visit Jon's family in North Carolina, cooking up all of his favorite Southern-inspired meals from his time growing up in the South.

Nanny’s Beans and Taters

Of all Southern food, there’s no staple as dear to my heart as this simple combination of beans and potatoes. When I was a boy, my grandma, Nanny, would visit us for holidays and special occasions. I’d come home from school or playing in the woods, and the house would be flooded with delicious smells of cooking. And even though I was a husky kid, she’d hug me and say, “My goodness, you ain’t nothing but skin and bones. Go get cleaned up for supper.” I loved her for it. 

As I washed up, she’d prepare a bowl of mashed potatoes, soft as clouds, and top them with a delicious bean stew. We’d sit and chat for hours. They’re some of my most cherished memories, and this recipe takes me right back to that small kitchen table and her loving smile.

Beans can represent a lot of different things in Southern-style cooking. It can mean cooking with dried beans, fresh beans, green beans, even peas. According to an official count done by an agriculture center in Tennessee, there are about 140 different Southern beans and peas, many of which are found on farms throughout North Carolina. But rest assured—despite these differences and nuances, almost all Southern beans are prepared the same way: soaked in water overnight and then boiled with seasonings and some sort of fat, like bacon or salted pork. That same fat source is then served with the beans in the final dish, adding a rich base of flavor.

In addition to cooked beans, no Southern side dish is complete without some potatoes. Hearty, filling and relatively easy to prepare, potato recipes are especially common throughout Appalachia due to the mountains’ cooler, drier climate. I prefer russet potatoes, especially when making mashed potatoes. The flavor of a russet is relatively mild, and the skin on the outside is thick, while the inside meat remains soft and fluffy—perfect for absorbing lots of cream and butter.

So, in true Southern fashion, this favorite recipe of mine calls for a mixture of various dried beans and peas, along with some savory pieces of pork. And, of course, it all comes together with a heaping scoop of warm, buttery mashed potatoes. Be warned: This simple side dish may end up outshining your main course… 

Nanny’s Beans and Taters

Nanny’s Beans and Taters

Yield: 4 servings

Prep: 15 minutes + overnight Cooking: 2.5-3 hours

Beans ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cups of pre-mixed, dried bean medley (or ⅓ cup of each of kidney beans, black beans, black eyed peas, navy beans and pinto beans)
  • ½ pound pork belly, cut into small cubes
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 5 cups water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig of thyme, with leaves removed from stem
  • 2 medium-sized ham hocks
  • Salt and pepper

Mashed taters ingredients:

  • 3 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large cubes  
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup butter (half a stick)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • Salt
  • Chives, finely sliced

Cooking Tools

  • Large glass bowl
  • Two large pots
  • Cutting board
  • Knife
  • Measuring cups
  • Masher (or electric mixer)


  1. Soak all of the beans in water overnight. When you’re ready to cook, drain the water. 
  2. In a large pot, saute the onion and  pork belly over medium-high heat. Once the pork belly begins to brown, add the water, garlic, drained soaked beans, bay leaves, thyme and ham hocks. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer, letting everything cook for 2 ½  hours. You can tell the bean mixture is done by squeezing a bean between your fingers—it should feel soft but not mushy. If the beans are still hard after 2 ½ hours, cook for another 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Once the beans are done, turn the heat off and carefully remove the ham hocks from the pot. Separate the meat from the bones, and then add the meat back into the pot.
  4. In a separate pot, add the cubed potatoes and cover with water. Boil the potatoes on high for about 20 minutes, or until they feel tender and can easily be cut with a knife.
  5. Drain the water but keep the cooked potatoes in the same pot. Add cream, butter and garlic to the pot, and mash all together using a masher or electric mixer. Add salt to taste.
  6. To serve, place a large scoop of mashed potatoes in a bowl and then add a scoop of the bean mixture on top, letting the flavors and juices from the beans seep into the potatoes. Garnish with chives.

Jon and Aubrey made their latest trip in a Thor Motor Coach Class B Van.

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