Georgia writer Flannery O’Connor was mistaken — a good man isn’t so hard to find, but finding a good bowl of butter beans can sometimes be challenging, unless you cook them yourself.
When I talk about butter beans, I’m referring to baby green lima beans. I’m not referring to butter peas or large, green lima beans. I’m also not referring to baby or large brown lima beans, which make a great bean soup. Butter beans are called that because of the buttery flavor they exude when they’re seasoned right.
I’ve only found about a dozen restaurants that treat the humble butter bean with the respect it deserves.
Butter beans are one of the summer veggies I search for, shell, blanch and freeze. They’re seconded only by fresh summer corn, which, by the way, I sometimes like added to my butter beans along with salt, pepper and bacon bits.
Many restaurants, including those calling claiming to serve “country cooking” or “home cooking,” simply heat up gallon-size cans of butter beans, adding nothing more than a little salt and pepper. Some don’t even add that. Some restaurant butter beans have the metallic taste of the can itself.
I’m not saying you can’t season canned or commercial brands of frozen butter beans to a sufficient degree to make them worth eating.
My son will season a bag of Pictsweet butter beans with a chunk of fatback for several hours, and his beans are delicious.
Dixon Elementary School near Holly Ridge, N.C., did butter beans right when I was a kid. When I later went to Pavo (Ga.) Elementary School, it did them right, too.
Butter beans aren’t cooked like that in school cafeterias anymore, now that the political-correctness police have added public-school cafeterias to their list of institutions to destroy. Some of their healthy, “nutritious” foods are about as tasty as grass clippings from a freshly mowed lawn. It’s little wonder they’re having trouble getting kids to eat their vegetables. I’d rather eat tacos, tater chips and pizza, too, if unseasoned veggies were all I had to choose from.
Locally, I know I always can find some well-seasoned butter beans on the buffet line at Sybil’s in Jesup. I sometimes drive another hour south of Jesup on Highway 301.
Just over the state line, I’ve found some of the best butter beans in the world in a little barbecue joint. Their ribs are pretty good, but I go there for the butter beans. If I’m willing to drive over an hour for a veggie, it’s got to be good!
I have ordered their butter beans both as side veggies with my ribs or barbecue sandwich, and then ordered a pint or quart of beans to go.
For a spicy twist to seasoned butter beans, I recommend Blackwater Grill on St. Simons Island. Its Cajun-style butter beans are a perfect side dish to their Cajun, Creole or low-country seafood. Its butter beans are not what I’d consider hot, but they’re spicy enough to make your nose run, which makes them perfect.
My wife once asked me why I schedule our annual pilgrimage to Wilbur’s Barbecue in Goldsboro, N.C., during the summer when we already have so many other things going on. I told her it’s so I can get their fresh butter beans (and fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes). Unlike the barbecue joint in the Sunshine State, I won’t say I only go to Wilbur’s for their butter beans, although they’re delicious. Wilbur’s still is the best barbecue on the planet; its butter beans are incentive to making the six-hour drive, though.
Maybe Flannery O’Connor would have written a different story if only she’d first defined what she was looking for. Good men and good butter beans can still be found, but you have to define what you mean by good, and you have to know where to look.
Oh, and you have to make sure they’re well-seasoned.
Email Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org.