Green beans are as integral to the Southern vegetable plate as skillet corn and fried okra.

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If you still refer to beans as string beans or snap beans, then at some time in your life you probably spent summer afternoons on the back porch, stringing and snapping and swapping stories with your siblings. And you surely learned the difference in a bush bean (such as Blue Lake or Royal Provider) and a pole bean (such as Rattlesnake and Kentucky Wonder), and relished the aroma of walking in Grandma’s kitchen when she was making a pot of Southern-style string beans. When green beans are ordered at a restaurant, all too often what you are served are gray-ish, tasteless, and boiled-to-a-mush. It really isn’t difficult, however, to recreate that fabulous taste and smell of a perfect pot of green beans, just like your Grandmother made.

Green beans are an integral part of a Southern family’s supper, along with other summer favorites like fried okra, fresh tomatoes, and squash casserole. Food trends in the last few years have brought to the forefront different ways to prepare green beans, such as this method for Sautéed Green Beans with Bacon.  And since Southerners are known to love all things fried, try making a batch of Green Bean Fries for your next cocktail party.  What holiday menu is complete without – you guessed it – the green bean casserole? While we all love the original recipe using a LOT of cream-of-mushroom soup, this Southern Living Test Kitchen recipe for Old School Green Bean Casserole with a homemade sauce has become a reader favorite.

There are many ways to enjoy green beans, but none of them compare to a simple pot of old-fashioned beans.  All you need are fresh beans (frozen can be used if that is what you have, reduce cook time by about 10 minutes) and some pork – either a ham hock, leftover ham bone, or bacon slices. The key is to cook the beans just until tender, not mushy.

Southern-Style Green Beans

Yield: 10 to 12 servings

3          pounds fresh pole or bush beans
5          cups of water
1          (1/2-lb.) ham hock
2          teaspoons salt
¼         teaspoon pepper

1. Remove strings from beans, snapping beans into 2-inch pieces. Wash beans.

2. Place water and ham hock in a Dutch oven; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 1 hour. Add beans, salt, and pepper; cook 30 minutes or until tender. 

WATCH: How To Make Creamed Corn

While the beans are simmering, bake a skillet of hot cornbread, warm up some skillet corn, and slice a tomato. Prepare to enjoy an old-fashioned Southern vegetable plate.