Friday, September 20, 2013

New England Days

In the mornings and late evenings, you can tell that summer has ended and the world is sliding into fall.  Its a rather delicious feeling, redolent of dry leaves, roasting squash, and deep twilight evenings under a blanket contemplating a bonfire.

It reminds me so much of my childhood in New England, when a walk to the bus stop meant crunching through drifts of fallen orange leaves, and the walk home from visiting friends meant coming in from a gathering darkness filled with the smell of smoke from fire-lit chimneys.  Its the season of homecoming, of frost in the morning and mist rising from the lake.

This means, too, that it is the time of year for warm, filling casseroles and hearty dishes laced with rich meats.  Taking a little break from all things tomato, I decided to make a batch of homemade baked beans to add to the pantry.  Baked beans are a classic New Englander dish, usually served with hot dogs and warm brown bread from a can.  Its no wonder that as the weather drifts toward winter that I start to pine for the smell of rich molasses sauce and savory beans in the oven.

Its a simple enough dish to make: I started with soaking two pounds of pea beans (also known as navy beans), and then layered them with thin strips of salt pork found at the local butcher shop into my cast iron Dutch oven.  Its a wonderful pot, found at a yard sale and likely once owned by a hardworking grandmother--I think she'd appreciate it being used still!  A simple sauce of hot water, molasses, apple cider vinegar, and dry mustard was poured over the beans, and into a hot oven it went for four hours.  Every 30 to 45 minutes I topped it off with more molasses-laced water, until the beans were soft, brown and glazed with a rich sweet sauce.

Because I wanted these to store in my pantry, I ladled them into hot Ball jars--nine pints in all--and pressure canned them at 11 pounds of pressure for 65 minutes.  After letting them cool overnight, and drifting to sleep hearing the ping ping pong of sealing jars, I now have a little bit of my fall childhood in my pantry.

Now, to make brown bread in a can!  That would really bring it all home for me.

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