Arlie’s Pinto Beans

This is my late father-in-law, back when he was a young Army pilot:

And this is a bowl of beans made using his recipe:

Now for a bit of background, before we get down to the ingredients and such.

Although I met Bill (his given name was “Arlie,” but I knew him as “Bill”) about a year before I married my husband, I’m sorry to say that I didn’t know my father-in-law very well. He passed away a few months after our wedding ceremony. Most of what I know about him is gleaned from family stories.

Even before I met him, however, I had a lot of admiration for his military service. See, he was one of a special group of men who figured how to fly around helicopters and rescue fallen soldiers on foreign soil, first in Korea and then in Vietnam.

Think of a flying ambulance and you get the general idea. Except, in the early years, it was something more akin to zipping around in a tin can.

Having seen this up close, I have even deeper respect for the courage it took to fly in and rescue injured soldiers.

Actually, if you’ve ever seen the opening credits of M*A*S*H–either the movie or the television show, then you’ve seen the kind of helicopter that Bill flew in Korea. A clip from the film (mature content in the lyrics):

Bill was very good at this line of work. In fact, if you visit the AMEDD Medical Museum at Fort Sam Houston here in San Antonio, you’ll see his name on a memorial recognizing him and several of his fellow Korean War-era pilots, a.k.a. “Solopilots.”

According to a military newspaper in a 2010 story about the memorial, Maj. Gen. Russell Cserw, the then-commanding general at Fort Sam Houston, said of the Solopilots: “[They] created one of those giant leaps forward of men and machine that saved the lives of men and women every single day.”

Pretty cool, huh? I’m related by marriage to an honest-to-goodness pioneer of aeromedical evacuation.

Back to his recipe…

A few weeks back, a friend of the family forwarded to my husband a recipe that had appeared in an Enterprise, Alabama cookbook long ago. (Enterprise is home to Ft. Rucker, where a lot of Army helicopter pilots still go to train.) This was a lovely gesture as the beans are the very ones that Hubby grew up eating–the ones for which we wanted a recipe, but couldn’t find. My mother-in-law passed away a few years back–and we didn’t ask enough questions about family recipes.

Thanks to the friend’s generosity in forwarding this one our way, our young son can grow up eating his grandfather’s pintos.

Mind you, we tinker with it a little–leaving out the ham, adding veggie bouillon to the broth, using a mix of red and green peppers, cooking everything in a slow cooker.

Yet I’ve decided to run it here today just as it appeared over 30 years ago, as Bill himself saw fit to share it.

from “Recipes from the Kitchens of Family and Friends,” page 41

1 bag dried pinto beans
Salt to taste
Smoked ham
2 Tablespoons cooking oil
1 small onion
1 small bell pepper

Wash beans well. Cover beans with water and soak overnight. Drain off water and place in large boiler and cover with fresh water. Add salt, cooking oil, chopped onion, bell pepper, and ham. Bring to a boil and turn the burner on low heat and cook for 2-1/2 hours or until beans are soft and soup has thickened. Add water as needed.


  1. I loved reading about your father in law’s service in Korea. My father also flew helicopter rescue/M.A.S.H. missions in Korea. He was stationed at Johnson Air Force Base near Tokyo, Japan. He’s been gone for 13 years and I sure wish I had asked more about his time there.
    God bless you and your family and thank you for the recipe.

      • I’m sure he’s not on the memorial, he was Air Force. I did look at the site, it was very interesting and made me want to talk to my dad more than ever. I’m going to look around the internet for other sites about Air Force rescue pilots. Thanks again.

  2. Pamela, you might also find it interesting that as an even younger man, he worked night shift at a local factory. When he got home, he would eat a breakfast of cold pinto beans and cold cornbread.

    Thanks for including him and his pinto beans in your blog. I still enjoy them today.

    Herma Corene Price Rickard

  3. Pamela, Thank you for sharing more than just the bean recipe. It is wonderful to remember those who have served, even if we ourselves don’t know them. It fosters a gratitude for their service that seems to deepen with each story. I can say this because my own father was a pilot in WWII, downed on the Island of Mindanao. Those beans become pretty special when they are seasoned with the memories him I bet. I’m that way with sloppy joe’s and grilling steaks, both things my dad loved to do.

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