Once again, sisters plant their magic (pinto) beans

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 20, 2015

SPENCER — As you head back Leonard Road and push toward the river, you begin passing open fields where horses, cows and donkeys are grazing. It’s a bucolic scene but one that was interrupted Saturday by all the cars taking a left turn and parking on the spacious lawn at Joy Gerock’s house.

An outdoor festival is about the last thing you expect to come upon here in the country, not to mention a festival honoring one of the more sacred of Southern delicacies, the pinto bean.

But here it was. Several hundred people showed up at the 2015 “Pinto Bean Fest” to sample 10 different versions of pinto beans — pinto beans with ham hocks, cured ham, country ham, peppered bacon, fat back and “side meat.” Other varieties were labled as white chicken chili, salsa beans and chili beans.

Just to get you thinking, the hosts had placed a crock pot of beans in the corner with a sign over it that said, “Seasoned with possum.”

“How can you be a country girl and not like beans?” asked Arlene Brown after going down the line.

Calvin Mullineaux said beans, especially pinto beans, were a way of life for many people in his generation.

“When you grow up poor,” he said, “that’s all you’ve got.”

Gerock and her sisters, Gayle Wilson and Linda Thomas, have now put on eight of these Pinto Bean Fests, and there have been eight different T-shirts made up for the family and friends who help them. This year’s color was red.

Besides the beans — they cook between 75 and 100 pounds — the women offer hot dogs with slaw,  jalapeno hushpuppies and cornbread.

In the South, you can’t have pinto beans without cornbread.

They also make generous containers of iced tea and pink lemonade.

The people encouraged to come — it’s pretty much a word-of-mouth invitational — are welcome to bring a dessert, and they usually do. The cakes, pies and cookies filled a table where Wilson’s banana pudding also was offered.

Saturday, the beans were cooking and staying warm in a line of electric roasters along the back wall of Gerock’s two-bay outbuilding with a metal purple roof. It’s one of those Morton metal buildings, she explained.

Hanging above the roasters were the mounts of many of the deer her late husband, Charles, had bagged with a bow and arrow, along with his stuffed black bears in the corner. Charles shot the wild turkeys, also on display, with a gun, and reeled in the mounted largemouth bass.

The metal building provided inside tables, but the grounds outside also were filled with tents and tables and lawn chairs the visitors knew, from experience, to bring with them. Local musicians played their songs under a separate shelter, while Tom Smith and Jeff Gobble kept frying up hushpuppies nearby.

There were no tickets sold for the Pinto Bean Fest. Never has been. You could eat all you want, all day long, and not spend a dime.

But the sisters usually put out a can for monetary donations to help someone in their community who’s in need. In fact, that’s how the first Pinto Bean Fest came about.

“We just had a desire to so something for a neighboring family,” Gerock recalled.

The first Pinto Bean Fest drew 125 people. Last, year, the sisters had 325 people show up. They know the number because most everyone signs a book near the start of the pinto bean line.

This year’s Pinto Bean Fest raised money for Betty and Terri Thompson, who lived “about 10 houses up,” Gerock said. A sign by the pinto beans explained that the women, who are both disabled, lost their home in a fire Nov. 23, 2014, and they are now living with Betty’s daughter, Deborah, and her husband.

The sisters decide to cook their pinto beans “if there’s a need,” Gerock said.

“And this year, there’s a need,” she added.

The 2015 Pinto Bean Fest was special in another way, because it also celebrated the 95th birthday of the sisters’ mother, Adalia Snider, who lives next door.

Adalia’s sisters — 89-year-old Lena Snider of Churchland and 98-year-old Irene Barrier of Thomasville — also made an appearance at the Pinto Bean Fest.

So there might be some kind of longevity secret to pinto beans.

Overa bowl of  pinto beans, you hear a lot of references to “Blazing Saddles” and the gaseous side effects they can have. But this does not stand in the way of Southerners’ love for the beans and the different things to combine them with.

Carol Kiniry laughed when she noticed her plate had helpings of pinto beans with both cured ham and ham hocks.

“Does that tell you I like ham?” she asked.

Besides the deer, turkey and fish mounted on her garage wall, Gerock also displays the different-colored T-shirts from Pinto Bean Fests of the past.

“The red one will go right there in this spot,” Gerock said, looking up.

It was as though she saw how something wonderful grows each year from the sisters’ magic beans.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mark.wineka@salisburypost.com.