Saturday morning, go to your local farmer’s market. Buy some dry beans, and try to find an interesting variety you’ve never heard before (mine were Vermont Cranberry). Also buy some local bacon, nitrate-free. Go home, and before you go to bed that night, pour two cups of beans into a large pot, and cover with water. Look at how pretty the beans are. Take a picture, and post it to Instagram. Laugh at yourself, because you’ve become one of those annoying people that post food pictures all the time. Thankfully you have friends that love food, too, so they like it anyway.
The next morning, pour off the soaking water. Add fresh water and heat the beans to boiling. Pour them into a dutch oven with 1/4 lb bacon, salt and pepper, a tablespoon of mustard, an onion and 1/3 cup maple syrup (I used this recipe, with a few alterations–wet mustard instead of dry, didn’t have Grade B maple syrup, only did 2 cups of beans rather than 2 1/4). Slide them into a 300 degree oven, and wait. Wait for many, many hours. Stir the beans, and add water as needed. Taste them. They will be ready in about 6 hours, and they will taste of smoke, and sweet, and earth.
I recently read “Maine Cooking: Old-Time Secrets,” a really wonderful book of food essays by Robert P. Tristam Coffin. If you love reading about regional/local food, I encourage you to find this book and read it. This man loves food and was raised on a saltwater farm in Maine. His mother cooked huge feasts of local food for their family, and he writes so eloquently about the food you almost feel like you are there. Here he is, writing about the traditional Saturday evening bean supper.
“So, for seven hours. You must stand guard in the kitchen and tend to your cosmic work. Pay no attention to the husband or boys of the family who suddenly acquire good manners as the sun gets low and golden toward the end of the day. Let them pinch in with hunger. Mount guard. Feed your beans. So the seven old planets are fed and the stars kept oiled and running in their orbits.
The last time you take off the lid, you leave it off for good. And with a fork you dredge up the chunk of pork, bring it to the surface where it can crust over and brown. Close the oven. Let the fire sink low, and let the unlidded beans brown. You will have to be a strong character and resist the fragrance now, flowing out like a fragrance from heaven. For the uncovered beans will permeate the kitchen, the house, the neighborhood, the town. People will stop on the street, under the crescent moon or the early evening stars and water will come to their mouths, and tears, even to their eyes. Hardened criminals will become as little children, stop by your house, and well up with forgotten goodness in their beings. People–perfect strangers–will think suddenly they ought to come in and call on you. Resist them all. Lock the kitchen door, if need be. Though hunger grips you and shakes you like a leaf, sit still, ward the closed door of the stove, even to the end of the eighth hour.
When you fling wide the door at last, the beans will be brown as a heap of October acorns, and the pork singed the hue of ripe old mahogany. Dish up the beans now. Bring in the steaming cylinder of brown bread. Call in the family. Untie the small boys. Call the neighbors. Call in strangers and criminals crowding there at your gate. Invite the world! For it is the hour of humanity. It is the Saturday evening hour, the hour that puts the pinnacle on the whole week. The hour of old New England prayer. Threshold to Sunday, the day of peace. The gateway to heaven. The best meal of all New England’s best.”
We live on a private dirt road, so there are no neighbors to invite, but I assure you the fragrance here is mouth-watering. And it’s Sunday night, not Saturday, but still, you are all invited, of course, any time.