Yield: 6 generous servings
Put the beans in a kettle and cover them generously with boiling water. Put the bacon chunk in a pan and cover it generously with boiling water. Let everything sit for 10 minutes, then drain well. This will make the meat less salty and strong, and the beans somewhat less gassy. Set aside the bacon.
Bury the whole clove-studded onion and 1 whole hot pepper pod in the beans, cover them with cold water, and bring gently to the simmer. Simmer, uncovered, adding water if necessary, until the beans are barely tender - the skins will split when you blow on them. Tenderness will take from 1-1/2 to 4 hours, depending on how long those beans have been sitting on the shelf. Drain the beans, saving the liquid. Discard onion and pepper.
Cut the rind from the bacon in a single piece and use the piece to line the bottom of your beanpot or other heavy, small-mouthed casserole. Rind should be facing into the pot. Cut 3 to 4 thin slices from the face of the bacon - just enough to blanket the opening of your pot. Cut the rest into small cubes.
Mix the bacon cubes with the beans and everything else up through the maple syrup. Put the beans in the pot. Pour in the reserved cooking liquid and enough additional water to barely float the top layer of beans. Arrange the bacon slices on top of everything and cover the pan.
Bake covered at 250°F for 6 to 8 hours, until the beans are very tender. Add water if they start to dry out during cooking. Uncover the pot for the last hour and a half so the crust can crisp.
*The peppers should be whole because that way the hot element is trapped inside the skin. You get lots of flavor and not much heat. If you use all 4 peppers, thoroughly crushed, you'll get beans hot enough to make your eyebrows sweat.
In this issue: Thoreau's Maine
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