Prepare the 19th-century lumber-camp staple like a pro. Reason #79 from our special bicentennial issue, "200 Reasons to Love Maine."
Nowadays, baked beans come from a can, but in olden days, they more often came from a hole in the ground. One of many culinary practices that early New Englanders cribbed from Native Americans was the subterranean slow-cooking of beans, and in the 19th century, bean-hole beans were a staple in Maine’s lumber camps, a tasty supply of much-needed protein in the backwoods. Those camps are long gone, but the beans persist, at church suppers and community fundraisers and also in backyards, where anyone with a little spare time can simmer up a sweet, smoky, tender potful.
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Start digging. A good bean hole should be about 3 feet deep and wide enough for 6 inches of clearance for the pot (which should be cast iron or earthenware). For best effect, line the hole with stones to hold heat.
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Soak the beans overnight. Yellow eye beans are a classic, but most any standard varietal will do.
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Light a fire, and keep adding several-inch-thick pieces of seasoned hardwood for a few hours, until left with a bed of hot coals about 8 inches deep.
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Combine beans, salt pork, molasses, sugar, mustard, or whatever your recipe of choice advises, then nest the covered pot in the hole, mound coals around and atop, and cover with dirt.
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Dig out the pot and ladle heaping portions alongside hot dogs and brown bread.