Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Southern Green Beans with Bacon

Southern Green Beans with Bacon, Overhead view with red onion and bacon garnish

This slow-cooked dish will make even the most finicky want to eat their veggies

When we serve green (string) beans these days, most of us cook them quickly (and minimally).  The idea is to preserve their fresh flavor — and let the beans retain a brilliant green hue.  Some people cook them so little that the beans still retain a bit of crunch.

But this recipe takes the opposite approach:  the beans slowly braise at low heat for at least 6 hours.  The result is green beans that are meltingly tender.  And the flavor?  It’s magnificent (almost haunting), enhanced by the bacon and onion that cook along with the beans all those hours.

This dish was once quite popular in the southern US states, and even outside them.  It’s an old-timey recipe that always seemed to be the specialty of a beloved grandmother or aunt.  Nowadays, it’s not seen all that much, which is too bad.  Admittedly, it’s a dish you wouldn’t want every week — most of us don’t have time to cook it that often, and the bacon does carry a caloric hit.  But it’s perfect for special occasions.

In the US, we’ll be celebrating Memorial Day on May 27 — and that’s always the unofficial start to summer eating.  This dish would be ideal for the barbecues, picnics, and cookouts that we’ll be attending or hosting.  So maybe (at least once this summer) you should release your inner grandmother and make this dish. 

It does take a while to cook, but the (delighted) response you get will be instant.


Southern Green Beans with Bacon on plate with red onion and bacon garnish

Recipe:  Southern Green Beans with Bacon

For this recipe, it’s best to use big, mature green beans — they stand up better to long cooking than smaller, thin ones.  Most of the green beans we buy today, by the way, are stringless, even though we still call them “string” beans.  

Pork fat is an important ingredient in this recipe; it provides flavor and savor, and really makes the dish.  I’m using bacon, but I’ve had versions made with salt pork. 

Although you can cook this dish on top of the stove at the barest simmer, I find it easier to cook in the oven at low heat (225 degrees F).  With today’s well-insulated ovens, you won’t overheat the kitchen, even if you cook it during the hottest part of summer. 

Prep time for this dish is about 20 minutes.  Cooking time is at least 6 hours, and I sometimes let it braise 9 or 10 hours (or even overnight).  This dish reheats well, so you can make it ahead.  It also tastes good served at room temperature.

This recipe yields about 8 side-dish servings. 

Ingredients
  • 4 slices of bacon (4 or 5 ounces)
  • ~¾ cup onion, thinly sliced (I particularly like red — purple — onions in this recipe, but any variety works)
  • 1 pound of green (string) beans, or a bit more (choose thick, mature beans, not thin ones)
  • red pepper flakes to taste (at least ½ teaspoon; you can omit this, but it adds great flavor)
  • salt to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • additional slices of red onion for garnish (optional)
  • additional slices of crispy cooked bacon for garnish (optional)
Procedure
  1. Preheat oven to 225 degrees F.
  2. Cut the bacon into pieces of about ½ inch, place in a heavy Dutch oven or casserole big enough to hold the beans (preferably one made of cast iron), and turn stovetop heat to medium.  Cook the bacon pieces on the stovetop until crisp — probably 8 minutes or so.
  3. Meanwhile, peel the onion and slice thinly.  (You may want to save a few slices of the onion for garnish.)
  4. Rinse the green beans and begin cleaning them, cutting off the tips and removing strings (in the unlikely event that the beans have any).  Cut the beans into pieces measuring an inch or two.
  5. The bacon will probably finish cooking before you finish cleaning the beans.  Remove the cooked bacon from the pot with a slotted spoon and set aside, then add the sliced onion to the pot.  Cook the onion in the bacon fat until translucent (about 7 or 8 minutes).
  6. When the onion is translucent, stir in the red pepper flakes.  Sauté the pepper flakes for 15 seconds or so (to help flavor the fat), then return the bacon to the pot and add the cleaned and cut beans.  I usually add just a bit of salt and freshly ground black pepper at this stage (planning to add more later).
  7. Add water to the pot until it just barely covers the beans (I usually add hot water from a kettle).  Heat the bean mixture on top of the stove until the water begins to simmer.  Then turn off the stove, cover the pot, and place the pot in the oven.  (See Note about this.)
  8. Cook for at least 6 hours (you may need to adjust your oven heat so the liquid is just at a slow simmer).  I usually peek in at the 3-hour mark to see how things are coming along.  You can add more salt at this point if necessary.
  9. When ready to serve, adjust seasoning.  Just before serving, I often sauté several additional slices of bacon for garnish (or sometimes I set aside some of the bacon that I’ve sautéed in Step 2, then reheat it and use that for garnish).   You can crumble the bacon and sprinkle the pieces over the dish, or keep the bacon pieces whole.  If you reserved any slices of onion in Step 3, you can also add those as garnish. 
Southern Green Beans with Bacon, overhead view with red onion garnish

Notes
  • Although I usually make this dish with fresh green beans, you can use frozen.  I don’t generally care for frozen green beans, but they work well in this recipe.
  • I typically don’t remove any of the rendered bacon fat from the pot after I’ve finished browning the bacon.  But if the amount of fat bothers you, you can remove some of it — just leave a tablespoon or two for sautéing the onion in Step 5.
  • The bacon adds saltiness to this dish.  So I usually add very little salt at the beginning (see Step 6), figuring I can always add more later. 
  • In Step 7, I direct you to cover the Dutch oven or pot.  Most cooking pots don’t seal that well, so they’ll permit some evaporation of cooking liquid — which is a good thing in this case.  If the lid seals well enough to retard evaporation, you may want to adjust it so it’s slightly ajar.  Don’t stress over this, though.  And, obviously, you don’t want all of the liquid to evaporate — at the end, you should still have about half the amount of liquid that you started with.
  • Although this dish would seem to be a natural for the slow-cooker, the Crock Pot versions I’ve tasted just don’t have the same scrumptious flavor as conventionally cooked recipes.  That may be because evaporation doesn’t seem to happen as readily in slow-cookers (at least in my experience), so the dish doesn’t “cook down.”  When I cook this dish conventionally, the liquid reduces (creating a kind of a pot likker) and has a very slight syrupy quality to it.
  • Some people like to add chopped tomatoes to the pot along with the beans in Step 6.  I don’t usually do this, but it adds nice flavor, so you might like to try it.
  • As noted above, I sometimes garnish the cooked green beans with pieces of bacon or slices of onion (usually both).  They add nice flavor, and red onion (in particular) looks attractive.
Southern Green Beans with Bacon, Overhead view with red onion and bacon garnish

A Taste of Home

“These Southern Green Beans are great,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, helping herself to seconds.  “Almost as good as the ones my aunt used to make.”

“Yeah, she was a terrific cook,” I agreed as I dished up another round.  “Her gooseberry pie was legendary!  I never got that recipe from her, alas.”

“But she taught you how to make this dish,” said Mrs K R.

“Yeah, this is the kind of recipe we tend to learn in someone’s kitchen,” I said.  “Not from a cookbook.  In fact, I’ve rarely seen a recipe for this.  And your aunt didn’t really have a recipe either — she just knew how to make it.  I’m lucky she told me how.”

“I wonder why hers seemed to be a little better,” mused Mrs K R.  “Or maybe it’s just my memory playing tricks.”

“No, I think her version was better,” I said.  “Her beans were always fresh from the garden.  That makes a huge difference!”

“So maybe we should grow our own green beans?” suggested Mrs K R. 

“No room,” I replied.  “All the raised beds in our garden are filled with tomatoes and other stuff.”

“There’s still space in the backyard to add another raised bed,” she pointed out, helpfully.

I guess I know what I’m doing this weekend.

You may also enjoy reading about:
Garlic Coleslaw
Creamy Cole Slaw
Spinach Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing
German Potato Salad with Bacon
Mustard Potato Salad
French Potato Salad
American (Mayonnaise) Potato Salad
Potato Salad Basics
Baked Beans
Grilled Hamburgers
Barbecued Pork Steaks

72 comments:

  1. Hi John, your green bean dish look really good. Very interesting recipe, thanks for sharing.

    It good to plant your own vegetable and gardening is also a good form of exercise. So soon we'll see you harvest green bean from your yard? :)

    Have a great week ahead,regards.

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    1. Hi Amelia, we're definitely putting in another raised bed! Before we're done, our entire back yard is going to be garden, I suspect. And yes, you definitely see our produce in some of our recipes. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  2. Loved the 'slow cook' approach. Really really interesting recipe indeed. And look at that BOLD, vibrant white plate full of colorful veggies on the dark background !

    P.S. Can I borrow some photographic-wisdom from you? :)

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    1. Hi Suborna, black backgrounds are great, aren't they? Particularly with colorful veggies! Thanks for the kind words, and comment.

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  3. I bet these taste amazing and yes I just cook mine until they're bright green and still have a crunch to them. In fact when I first saw these I knew from their color they were cooked longer. But these sound wonderful - slow cooked with that heavenly bacon flavor. Thanks for sharing this recipe.

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    1. Hi Vicki, these do bear a resemblance to canned beans, don't they?! That's the only downside to the long cooking. But the flavor is worth it. Thanks for the comment.

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  4. I made green beans similar to this last year John; I think they were for a summer holiday barbecue and I could literally have eaten that whole pot and nothing else. When done right (and bacon sure helps!), they are amazing aren't they? Time to start looking at the market for a fresh batch, you've made me hungry for more.

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    1. Hi Barb, I can eat the whole pot, too. They're incredibly flavorful! Thanks for the comment.

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    1. Hi Arthur, yummy indeed! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  6. I haven't had slow cooked green beans in such a long time - this sounds awesome!

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    1. Hi Alyssa, this is one of those dishes I try to make at least once a year. Wonderful flavor! You owe these to yourself. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  7. Beans do not usually look so tantalising :)

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

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    1. Hi Uru, these truly are irresistible! A wonderful dish. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  8. Looks delicious. I have been experimenting with beans lately as we have had a huge crop of them over the past couple of weeks. Beans and bacon are a perfect match.

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    1. Hi Lizzie, beans and bacon pair so well, don't they? If you're looking for new bean dishes, this one truly is worth trying. Thanks for the comment.

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  9. This is how all of South East Asia and the Middle East like to eat their beans...without the bacon of course :) This is all I knew before I started cooking and now I do it the minimal way. I know cooked like this, the beans are totally different and totally delicious. I can't say I've tried your version, but I have cooked mine with cubed beef. Thanks for the reminder John, I need to cook them this way again!

    Nazneen

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    1. Hi Nazneen, isn't this a good dish? The beef sounds delish. You can also make a vegan version of this - use some mushroom, tomatoes, olive oil. Thanks for the comment.

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  10. Hello John happy planting to you as we all know what you are doing this weekend! Your post reminds me of a story. My dad always had a huge garden with lots and lots of green beans. I mean lots like rows and rows and rows of them. When it is time to be harvested I spent hours a little girl picking the beans and then plucking the ends off in preparation for using some for dinner and my dad cooked them identical to you. However he never garnished them so pretty and yours. I remember how delicious they were but how numb my fingers were from picking and plucking. So good luck with your garden and happy picking and plucking. Take care, BAM

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    1. Hi Bam, we got some more bedding plants today. ;-) Plucking the ends off beans is not one of my favorite jobs, but the result sure is worth it! Thanks for the comment.

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  11. Oh, yeah...the hubby would love this. Classic and homey take on green beans. I wish our garden had room for a crop, too :)

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    1. Hi Liz, I'm pretty sure by the time we're done with our backyard there will be no actual lawn left - just all beds! But it's a very small yard, so there's not much room for anything anyway. Thanks for the comment.

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  12. I have had this recipe before but I've not known how it was cooked. I knew the beans were cooked for a while but I had no idea they were cooked for six hours - not that's some slow cooking. The beans do become full of flavour and I'm glad I now know how to cook this recipe xx

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    1. Hi Charlie, you'll enjoy making this dish! It takes awhile to cook, but it needs virtually no attention on your part. And timing isn't critical - you want at least 6 hours, but it can easily go much longer. Thanks for the comment.

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  13. It's amazing how the flavor of these beans jumped into my mouth the moment I saw your pictures. My mom use to make these beans and I know how good they are. I've never made them myself, so I'm really excited about this recipe! It looks perfect! Thanks for spending over 6 hours to get this recipe to us.

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    1. Hi MJ, easiest 6 hours (actually a bit longer) of my life - the dish cooks itself! Since you know how terrific this dish is, now you have no excuse not to make it! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  14. I'm dying for my hubby to build raised beds. And these green beans are what always used to be on menus when we lived in Jacksonville, FL, way back when. You used to get your choice of three sides of vegies at a traditional Southern restaurant. Most were canned but these are definitely not. I have to wait 6 hours? My oh my, what's a girl to do? Thanks - these look great!

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  15. Hi Abbe, yup, you need to wait 6 hours - and more is better! There are recipes out there that are about half that time, but they're not as good IMO. Besides, you don't even have to stay in the house! Put them in the oven in the morning, they'll be ready for dinner. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  16. You can never go wrong with bacon. This is comforting and delicious! Thanks for sharing, John :)

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    1. Hi Kiran, isn't bacon so good? It helps make this dish! Thanks for the comment.

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  17. A tasty way of preparing beans! I have never made slow-cooked beans (as generally I stir-fry my beans)...

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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    1. Hi Rosa, I expect they're healthier if stir-fried (particularly if you don't use the bacon!), but this method is really worth trying sometime. They're amazing. Thanks for the comment.

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  18. Slow cooking these beans and stir-frying them are totally different concepts and opposite in my opinion. I like the idea of slow cooking it with bacon. The flavor must be wonderful and the string beans must melt in your mouth like butter. It also looks so easy to make. Thank you, John! :)

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    1. Hi Ray, this recipe is indeed the polar opposite of stir-fry! Both methods, of course, produce quite different results. And the beans do indeed melt in your mouth! Thanks for the comment.

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  19. The last time I had southern green beans was when an old friend from Knoxville came to Australia to visit. I put them on the table and John took one look and said, "You killed them!!"

    My friend Carolyn, with her hillbilly accent said, "John, you just try 'em! you'll lahke 'em."

    He laughed, took one bite and said, "I tasted them just for you." LOL He wasn't impressed.

    I love them! They bring back memories of living in the south for so long.

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    1. Hi Maureen, I'm surprised John didn't like them! I know the first time I saw the dish I thought it was a tad weird, but one bite convinced me these are truly good stuff. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  20. I'm not a big veggie eater, but add bacon and I'm SO in!! ;)

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    1. Hi Ashley, I think this dish has your name on it! Thanks for the comment.

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  21. It is such an attractive-looking dish. I love green beans and I always feel I don't have enough green beans throughout the year. That's probably because i grew used to bringing them from my grandmother, who grows them, so it's something I "forget" to buy when I go shopping for food.

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    1. Hi Alex, when you can get freshly harvested produce, it's hard to accept what the markets have to offer! What would we do without grandmothers? ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  22. My favorite veggie of all! I did my time in the south and swear it's in the water, how the most incredibly good tasting beans exist only there. I just planted my rows of corn, and between the corn are my pole beans! We have every single square inch of every space used. We shall see how the summer treats us. Now I must make these, sans the you know what, but I do love this dish!

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    1. Hi Kelly, your garden is always amazing! I think these are almost as good if you replace the bacon with mushroom that you sauté in olive oil, maybe add some tomato, and then cook forever. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  23. I like simple recipes like this one. And I like to find them during the spring period :)

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    1. Hi Marta, simple is better. At least that's what I always tell Mrs K R. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  24. I love slowly braised green beans. My mom used to make a lot. I never thought of adding bacon. I do add tomato and diced carrots most of the time. I have to try with bacon , I am sure my husband will love it even more :) Thanks for bringing back memories...

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    1. Hi Ilke, bacon makes a super addition - worth a try. And long-cooked green beans are so wonderful! Thanks for the comment.

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  25. Your last few posts have been getting me so excited about summer eating :) I would love to try bacon with green beans, yummm

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    1. Hi Kristi, I have a few more summer eating recipes on tap! This is a great dish - you wouldn't believe how tender the beans become. Thanks for the comment.

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  26. I'm a huge fan of slow cooking and this recipe is a wonderful way to combine this technique with a tasty summer dish.
    Nothing beats the combination of green beans and bacon.
    Thank you ,John :)

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    1. Hi Daniela, green beans and bacon work so well together, don't they? And the combo is magical in this dish. Thanks for the comment.

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  27. This is far outside my experience, John. I've been served green beans cooked with salt pork, when I was a boy, but none were cooked at so low a temp and for so long. I love the idea behind this dish, though, and have no fear of vegetables that aren't cooked al dente. I do hope to try this. Thanks for sharing this family recipe and good luck in the gardent this weekend.

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    1. Hi John, this is worth trying - I think you'd like it. But the dish is pretty far from any Italian dish I know, so I can see why this is so far outside your experience! Thanks for the comment.

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  28. This would make a perfect side dish to any menu, and Memorial Day gathering would be the perfect start. ;) And I think bacon just makes anything taste better.

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    1. Hi Amy, so hard to beat the flavor of bacon, isn't it? ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  29. This is nearly similar to a filipino dish, instead of using bacon we use fatty pork meat and some soy sauce for flavour.

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    1. Hi Raymund, I've often wondered what soy sauce would taste like in this dish, but have always been too lazy - and too wedded to the original flavor - to try it. I really need to sometime, and use the fatty pork meat. Thanks for the idea, and comment.

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  30. Beautiful. I have bacon in the fridge and I'll pick up beans tomorrow. I've had this before (at my grandma's house) but I never had a recipe. I'm in luck. Thank you for sharing with me!

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    1. Hi Monet, grandma recipes are good, aren't they? ;-) Have fun with this! And thanks for commenting.

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  31. I'm one of those people. I cook a lot of my veggies until they are tender-crisp. But the way you describe this dish is really making me want to try this. It sounds wonderful. Great recipe John!

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    1. Hi Gomo, I actually tend to cook veggies rather briefly, too, but can they also be good cooked forever - as they are in this dish. Thanks for the comment.

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  32. Oh my golly gosh, that is a long time to cook beans. I bet the flavour is amazing though.

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    1. Hi Suzanne, it really is a long time, and I remember when I first heard about this recipe I thought there must be some mistake. But the beans really are so wonderful. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  33. At my local farmers market there is always green beans, and runner beans, along with other choices through out the summer. I so need to try this recipe with the fresh local beans from my farmers market, that would be so fun! The recipe does sound full of flavor, and really delicious! Take care, Terra

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    1. Hi Terra, freshly picked green beans are beauties! You'll love this recipe - so much flavor! Thanks for the comment.

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  34. I think anytime you can sneak some bacon in, veg haters will never know what hit 'em. They'll scarf up the dish in ecstasy. ;)

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    1. Hi Carolyn, you're right that most people will eat anything that has bacon in it! And this dish truly is ecstasy. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  35. What a wonderful way to prepare beans. Anything that can be described as having a "haunting" flavour is something I want to try!

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    1. Hi Beth, the flavor really is haunting! At least to anyone who is bacon-obsessed. ;-) This is a terrific dish - I think you'd enjoy it. Thanks for the comment.

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  36. These green beans sound wonderful, full of flavor and nice and tender. Lovely recipe.

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    1. Hi Dawn, this is really a great bean dish - totally tender with loads of flavor. Thanks for the comment.

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  37. My Southern mother-in-law taught me to make these, and they are incredible. We do add potatoes on top of the beans, peeled and sliced in half lengthwise. Also, we never fry the bacon first, we just lay it on top. A truly fabulous dish and one I haven't had in ages. It's time for taters and beans, I think!

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    1. Hi Stacey and Natashka, I love the idea of potatoes! I'm going to try that. And I've never made this without frying the bacon first -- I should try it your way. Thanks for the comment.

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