Plenty of Mainers still make a pot of baked beans for Saturday night supper and serve them with steamed brown bread (or sometimes cornbread or biscuits). Other great accompaniments are crisp creamy coleslaw, bread-and-butter pickles, fresh salsa (heretical according to traditionalists, but darn good) and apple pie for dessert.
MOLASSES-BAKED YELLOW EYE BEANS
Yellow eyes are the bean many Mainers, including myself, prefer for making baked beans. Dried yellow eyes cook to a smooth creaminess while still holding their shape, and have a mellow, earthy flavor that persists even through the long simmering.
Other popular Maine legumes are soldier beans and a spotted beauty called Jacob’s Cattle. This is my tried-and-true recipe for baked beans, the one that I make regularly, and which comes out perfect every time. Its seasoning combines molasses and maple syrup to wonderful effect.
Serves six to eight as a main course, about 14 as a side dish.
1 pound dried yellow eye beans or other small beans such as Great Northern or navy, rinsed and picked over
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 large onion, chopped
2 teaspoons dried mustard
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 pound salt pork
If you like, soak beans in water to cover for 4 hours or overnight. Drain into a colander. In a large soup pot, bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Add the soaked or unsoaked beans and 1 teaspoon of the salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until beans are just tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Drain into a colander, discarding cooking water.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
In a 2 1/2- to 3-quart casserole or bean pot, combine the onion, mustard and ginger. Add the molasses, maple syrup, vinegar and the other teaspoon of salt and stir to combine. Add drained beans and enough water to cover them by about a half-inch. Make several cuts in the salt pork up to, but not cutting through, the rind, and insert the meat into the beans.
Cover with foil or a lid and bake for 3 hours. Check every 45 minutes or so, and if most of the liquid has cooked away, add enough boiling water to keep the beans slightly soupy at all times.
Uncover the baking dish and cook for a final 40 minutes to 1 hour, until sauce thickens and salt pork browns.
STEAMED BROWN BREAD
The late Evan Jones, noted writer about American food, described this bread as “a highly appetizing loaf, as dark as chocolate and rather moist.” The fine, moist, tender crumb imparted by the steaming process is distinctive, and greatly appealing. This also happens to be a very easy (and also fun) bread to create. Small amounts of the three special flours can be bought at natural foods stores.
Makes 1 loaf, 10 to 12 slices
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup rye flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk or sour milk (see Note)
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup dark raisins (optional)
Coat a clean 13- or 14-ounce coffee can with oil or vegetable oil spray. In a large bowl, whisk together the whole wheat flour, cornmeal, rye flour, baking soda and salt until blended.
In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk and molasses, and stir in the optional raisins. Pour buttermilk mixture into flour mixture and whisk just until blended.
Scrape batter into the prepared can and cover tightly with a double layer of aluminum foil, pinching it tightly to seal well. Place coffee can in a large pot with a lid and pour boiling water to come about halfway up the sides of the can. Cover kettle and steam over low heat until the bread rises and is firm to the touch, and skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 1/2 hours.
Remove can from the kettle and place on a wire rack until cool enough to handle. Tap bread out of the can or remove the bottom with a can opener, and push the bread out. Serve warm or at room temperature, cut into slices. (The bread can be refrigerated for a day or frozen. Reheat in a steamer or in a microwave before serving.)
NOTE: To sour milk, add 2 teaspoons white distilled vinegar to 3/4 cup whole or low-fat milk and let stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes until curdled.
Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently “Lobster!” (Storey, 2012). She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula, and can be contacted via Facebook at: facebook.com/brookedojny