Fort Mill Times

Cooking with Joy - April 8, 2009

Joy Smith of Fort Mill, an English teacher until she became a mother, refined her culinary skills as a homemaker.
Joy Smith of Fort Mill, an English teacher until she became a mother, refined her culinary skills as a homemaker.

The Halfway House restaurant was a favorite of ours when we lived in Richmond, Va., in the 1970s. It's an historic house located halfway between Richmond and Petersburg, hence the name.

This charming restaurant has a rich history dating back to the 1700s.

Its earliest use was that of an "ordinary" - a place for travelers to rest and have a meal.

During the War Between the States, it was used as a place for generals to plot their strategies for battle.

According to an article I read about the Halfway House, notable Americans who have dined there include George Washington, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and James Whitcomb Riley. That's quite a guest list!

The restaurant just reeks of history the minute you step into the dining room. The low ceilings and the open fireplaces make you feel as if you've stepped back into time. We considered it a romantic place to celebrate special occasions.

The food at the Halfway House was definitely worth the 30-minute drive from our house. The menu featured distinctly Southern fare, which we loved.

My favorite item wasn't an entree but a side dish of their fabulous green beans, a specialty of the house. I ordered them every time we went.

The dish was a colorful combination of tomatoes and green beans with a simple, yet complex flavor. I was never able to recreate it at home, but it wasn't from a lack of trying. All I succeeded in doing was wasting some perfectly good tomatoes and green beans!

Thankfully, before we moved away in 1979, the local paper ran a feature on the Halfway House. At the end of the article the chef shared a couple of recipes from the restaurant, including their signature green beans. I quickly clipped the recipe and have been making it ever since.

The recipe is so easy that it should be added to a list of recipes entitled "Cooking for Dummies."

There are only four main ingredients plus a little salt, pepper, and sugar. When combined, they add up to a recipe that will make people stop and ask, "What's in these delicious beans?"

Just smile and say, "Oh, it's just a little old Southern dish I threw together at the last minute." You wouldn't be lying either!

Halfway House Green Beans

6 slices bacon

1 large onion, chopped

3 large tomatoes, chopped*

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt, pepper

2 cups French green beans**

Fry the bacon in a large skillet. Drain on paper towels. Pour off half of the fat from the pan, and sauté the onions in the remaining bacon fat. Add the tomatoes, sugar, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the tomatoes are soft. Add the green beans and simmer for 15 minutes.

Crumble bacon on top and serve.

*I substitute one can (15 ounces) of diced tomatoes, undrained

**I substitute two cans (15 ounces) of green beans, drained