West Virginia Soup Beans and Cast-Iron Cornbread

A hearty, soul-warming dish with Southern Appalachian roots


“A visit to New River Gorge isn’t complete without an iconic Southern meal of soup beans and cornbread to feed your belly and your soul,” writes Lydia Ly in her new cookbook, The National Parks Cookbook : The Best Recipes from (and Inspired by) America’s National Parks. Historically, this cold-weather dish provided an affordable, practical source of sustenance for mountain residents throughout Southern Appalachia. 

“Despite the name, soup beans aren’t soup; they’re a steamy pot of brown beans, slowly simmered in a rich, creamy pot likker, and they only get better the longer they sit,” Ly continues.  Serve them with a crumbly wedge of jalapeño and pepper jack cornbread for a warming fall meal.


  • West Virginia Soup Beans and Cast-Iron Cornbread (Yield: 6 servings)

  • For the brown beans:

    • 1 lb. dried pinto beans

    • 1½ lb. smoked ham hocks

    • 1 yellow onion, quartered

    • 6 garlic cloves, smashed with the flat side of a knife

    • 4 thyme sprigs

    • 2 bay leaves

    • 1½ tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste

    • Ground black pepper

  • For the cornbread:

    • 2 eggs

    • 1 (14-oz.) can cream-style sweet corn

    • ½ cup milk

    • ½ cup sour cream

    • ⅓ cup olive oil

    • 1½ cups yellow cornmeal

    • 1 tbsp. baking powder

    • 2 tsp. kosher salt

    • 1 cup chopped scallions

    • 1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese

    • 1 jalapeño pepper, minced

    • 4 bacon slices


  1. Make the brown beans: Place the beans in a Dutch oven and add water until it rises about 2 inches above the level of the beans. Cover, bring to a boil, then remove from the heat and let soak for 1 hour.

  2. Add the ham hocks, onion, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, and salt and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook, uncovered, for up to 2 hours, depending on your preferred level of tenderness. (Softer beans may require a longer cooking time.) Start checking the beans at the 1-hour mark, adding more water, as needed, to keep the beans  submerged.

  3. Once the beans are cooked to your liking, remove the meat from the bones and discard the fat and bones. Coarsely chop the meat and stir it into the beans.

  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaves before serving.

  5. Make the cornbread: Preheat the oven to 400°F. 

  6. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, corn, milk, sour cream, and oil to blend. Stir in the cornmeal, baking powder, and salt until combined, then mix in the scallions, cheese, and jalapeño. In a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat, fry the bacon until crisp. Reserve 1 tablespoon of bacon fat in the skillet and transfer the bacon to a cutting board. Finely chop the bacon and stir it into the cornmeal batter.

  7. Swirl the bacon fat in the skillet to evenly coat the bottom. Pour the batter into the skillet and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Bake for about 30 minutes until the edges are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let rest for 15 minutes before slicing and serving with a bowl of soup beans.

Reprinted with permission from The National Parks Cookbook : The Best Recipes from (and Inspired by) America’s National Parks, by Lydia Ly, published by Harvard Common Press, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group. Text © 2022 Lydia Ly.