Recipe: Down-East Baked Beans
1 pound (2 cups) Maine yellow-eye beans (acceptable substitutes: Great Northern or white navy beans)
¼ pound salt pork
½ cup dark, full-flavored molasses
2 tablespoons dark rum
1 teaspoon mustard powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Pick over the beans, removing any debris or pebbles. Place the beans in a nonreactive pot, cover by 3 inches of water and let sit for 6 to 8 hours.
Place the beans and what remains of the soaking liquid into a large pot, adding more water if necessary to ensure the beans are covered. Bring this to a simmer, and after 15 minutes, check every 5 minutes until a sharp breath will split the skin of a bean. Then drain the beans into a colander, sitting on top of a bowl to catch the cooking liquid. Return the cooking liquid to the pot and let simmer on the stove while preparing beans for baking.
Preheat an oven to 250 degrees.
Cut the salt pork into bite-sized pieces and pour boiling water over to cover well. Drain after several minutes, discarding the liquid. Mix the salt-pork pieces into the prepared beans and pour them together in a 2-quart bean pot. Stir in the molasses and rum. Dissolve the mustard powder in a bit of water and mix this in well. Add seasoning to taste, starting with about ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Pour over just enough of the simmering bean liquid to be visible through the beans.
Turn off the heat under the pot of simmering bean liquid. Reserve to add to baked beans as needed.
Cover the baked bean pot and put it in the oven. Bake the beans for 5 hours, tasting occasionally, noting texture and seasoning, and adding more of the remaining bean liquid-or else water-as necessary. When the beans are soft and succulent, stir them well, uncover and bake ½ hour more to thicken the liquid into sauce.
Adapted from “Serious Pig: An American Cook in Search of His Roots,” by John Thorne with Matt Lewis Thorne