"If you want a sure formula, open a can."--John Thorne
Remember that talk of baked beans, eggs, and ketchup aux fruits from a couple of weeks back? Well, this morning our lumberjack special finally came together. Almost a year to the day since the last time I wrote about baked beans, here I go again.
We'd decided that Saturday was going to be the day to make baked beans. I was a little worried about the weather towards the end of the week, because the forecast was for partly cloudy/partly sunny weather and 14 degrees C and I wanted it to be a little chillier for baking beans, but I soaked my beans anyway on Friday night, and when I woke up on Saturday morning it was foggy and downright raw, perfect for baking beans. So I got out of bed, let Michelle sleep a little longer, and stole her copy of John Thorne's Serious Pig so I could bone up on baked beans, Maine-style. You might recall that we used John Thorne's recipe for Down-East Baked Beans last year for our entry on baked beans. We got that recipe from Saveur Cooks American and it was in the pages of Saveur that we first heard of John Thorne and his food writing. I made a mental note to track down a copy of Serious Pig, and when I was in New York in August I finally found a copy at the Strand. When I got back to Montreal I gave it to Michelle with the disclaimer that the title was in no way meant to be a bit of editorializing on her or her eating habits. She laughed, accepted my gift, and has been regaling me with tales of potato stands and orchards in Maine and Dirty Rice in Louisiana ever since. Anyway, I'd been meaning to sneak a peek at Thorne's lengthy chapter on Maine baked beans ("Knowing Beans") for some time. I figured I owed it to myself and to my beans to do so before making this next batch. Pick up a copy of Serious Pig, read the chapter on baked beans, and you'll learn everything from the particularities of Mainers when it comes to firewood and front doors, to the great variety of native beans used in the making of Maine baked beans and the seismic difference between Down-East Baked Beans and Up-North Baked Beans, to how to choose a proper bean pot and the lumberjack camp origins of the Maine tradition of baking beans. Thorne is a truly excellent food writer, and his food writing covers a great deal of ground. Armed with a deeper understanding of Maine baked beans, I whipped up another batch of Down-East Baked Beans, the addition of 1/4 pound of lardons fumés being the only alteration I made to Thorne's superb recipe. Once again I was struck by the perfect balance of flavors that result from following Thorne's method. Once again I was struck by the genius of adding 2 tablespoons of rum in place of some of the additional molasses or brown sugar you find in other recipes.
Later that night, after the beans had baked in a slow oven for some 6-7 hours, we had a very satisfying baked bean dinner with our fresh batch of Down-Easters, a hearty loaf of sourdough, some ketchup aux fruits (as per the Quebec tradition), and a delicious beet salad (with heirloom beets from Patrice's street sale). What I was really excited about, though, was the lumberjack special we had planned for this morning. The spread:
fried ham à l'ancienne
ketchup aux fruits
maple syrup (Quebec medium)
The only thing that was missing was a fresh batch of cretons maison. Next time. Otherwise, it was a perfect breakfast, one that fulfilled all our expectations.
My grandfather started his career as a cook in a lumberjack camp in the woods of Quebec. I'm not sure if he ever baked beans in a massive cast-iron pot buried in a "bean hole" the way Thorne describes, but he made his fair share of beans in his time. This meal was dedicated to him.