The old-fashioned October beans -- also called "shell" or "speckled cranberry" beans -- your grandmother used to make were probably flavored with salt pork or ham hocks. They were delicious, but the added, fatty pork detracted from the wholesome, natural goodness of these healthful legumes.
Southerners can grow and enjoy young October beans in the pod, but they are readily available in stores as dried, shell beans. Time is the most important ingredient in preparing a pot full of nutritious October beans.
Place dried beans in a colander and sort through them. Remove rocks and debris; rinse the beans thoroughly. Drain and place the beans in a large cooking pot.
Fill pot with cold tap water at a level 2 inches above top of beans. Cover the pot and cook the beans on the stove at medium-high heat until the water is boiling rapidly. Turn off the burner; remove the pot from the heat. Allow the beans to soak for one hour.
Uncover the pot and remove any floating beans. Drain the beans in a colander and rinse them, again, with cold water. Rinse the cooking pot before replacing the beans.
Add enough water and/or chicken broth so that the liquid is 2 inches above the beans. If desired, peel and chop onions and slice celery, and add them to the beans. Flavor the beans with pepper and other seasonings of your choice; do not add salt yet.
Place the pot on the stove and bring the water to rapid boil at medium-high heat. Turn the heat to low and simmer the beans from one to two hours until they are tender, adding salt during the final 10 minutes of cooking time. Turn off the burner and let the beans cool until they are ready to serve.
A 16-oz. bag of dried beans yields 12 to 13 1/4 cups.
Cooking beans in hard water toughens them; add a pinch of baking soda to the water to soften the water and the beans.
Dried beans don't last forever. Cook them within a year of purchase.