Loretta Lynn's Classic Country Recipes Helped Me Find My New Southern Home

Beans and taters, pimiento cheese, country ham, and more.

loretta lynn cookbook
Photo: Courtesy of Karen Resta

It seems impossible that Loretta Lynn is gone. It also seems impossible that she'd been with us for 90 years, because she always seemed ageless. She retained the iconic image of the strong woman of the South throughout her life, and her astonishing rags-to-riches life story was an inspiration to anyone who knew it—and millions of people all around the world did know it, because of her music.

Perhaps she's known best for her hit song "Coal Miner's Daughter." Say those three words, and she'll pop right into your mind, every bit as real and vital as she was over 50 years ago in 1970, when the song was first released.

I know Loretta from her music, but I also know Loretta in a different way—from her food. It was Loretta who taught me how to make beans and taters, cornbread, pimiento cheese sandwiches, fried apples, deviled eggs, and country ham with red-eye gravy. Learning these recipes was important to me, as a New Yorker who'd moved to a small town in the rural South. I've always surrounded the meaningful events in my life with food, and as I hoped to settle happily into living where everyone was either related or had known each other from birth, it felt important to know how to cook what everyone was eating.

It started, by chance, with Beans & Taters. I'd gone to a friend's house that morning to carpool our usual drive to our children's school. Her car was at the shop, and as her son chatted to his mom about what he wanted for dinner he asked for something fancy, and she laughed. "We might be eating beans and taters after getting this vehicle fixed," she said, and he looked up at her and nodded his head, pleased with that idea.

I'd never had Beans & Taters, so I searched for a recipe when I got home. It sounded like a good thing! But there was no recipe anywhere online at that point in time. Finally, I discovered a cookbook that had the recipe, and that cookbook was Loretta Lynn's You're Cookin' It Country. I still have that book right here in front of me.

The cookbook, like Loretta, has a voice—a big, warm hug of a voice. The recipes fit into the spaces between Loretta's stories of her life and her family's favorite foods. The recipes are simple and straightforward. Honest. But that doesn't mean they lack complexity, drama, or importance.

Loretta learned to cook from her mother, as she tells us in the book. "Mommy was a great cook, but she didn't have much to work with. She taught me everything I know. She always taught me about what she was cooking, but it didn't blossom out to fancy dishes. But she knew how to cook them beans and fry them taters and gravy."

And now I know how to cook some of those same things, from Loretta and her Mommy's recipes—and I love these dishes deeply. They hold memories of that time and that place, where at first I was an outsider, then with time when I was not.

If cooking is love, this is a good example of how it works. I'll remember Loretta from her songs, and I'll honor her with a feast. We can all sit at this table together.

loretta feast
Karen Resta

Southern Green Beans & New Potatoes

Makes 16 servings
*Adapted from You're Cookin' It Country

"It always tastes best if you can use fresh veggies," Loretta wrote in her cookbook.

1 ½ lbs. fresh green beans
½ lb. hog jowl or bacon
6-8 small new red potatoes
2 Tbsp. sugar
Salt and pepper

1. Clean green beans and trim ends, then break into 1½- to 2-inch pieces. In a large pot, add water to cover. Add jowl or bacon, scrubbed potatoes, sugar, salt, and pepper to the pot. Bring to full boil, and cook for 10 minutes, then reduce heat. Cover pot and simmer for about an hour and 30 minutes, checking occasionally, until beans are fully cooked and soft. Add water if needed to keep everything covered.

Cooking and Serving Notes: Though the original recipe says 16 servings, it would need to be one among many other side dishes. The yield is closer to 8 regular side servings.

The recipe can also be tweaked to taste, yet remain authentic by the addition of chopped onions, dill, or hot sauce before or after cooking.

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