The Maine Dish
Maine bean hole beans: a county girl’s take on what yesterday’s nyt article missed…
I confess, when I saw that the New York Times published the article “Who Needs an Oven? Just Bury Your Beans” yesterday, I was initially bitter. It was an “Isn’t there anything city people won’t just let us have?” kind of irritation. I mean, do we really need someone to point out how provincial and quaint it is that we actually CHOOSE to cook food in holes we dig in the ground just outside the door of our modern stainless kitchens?
I’m not feeling that way anymore. In fact, I think John Willoughby absolutely nailed the mystique of bean hole beans. Even better, he pointed out how readers could make them in their own yards and provided a solidly authentic recipe for the uninitiated.
Willoughby, however, missed an important element of the bean hole bean tradition: no self-respecting Mainer would make them himself. Rather, at least where I come from, Maine men perform the ceremony of preparing bean hole beans in pairs or larger groups. The tradition of baked beans lies in the communal aspect of its preparation. And by “communal,” I mean “involving beer and sometimes guns.”
So just how many Maine men does it take to make the beans? It’s a trick question best answered with a simple math equation:
Total Number of Beers in Cooler ÷ 6 = Persons Required
Note: if there is a horseshoe pit or if target shooting is involved, multiply quotient by 0.8 to adjust for increased beer consumption.
Bean hole beans extend a party by a whole day for most Maine men, because they are best prepared onsite and, well, they take a long damn time to cook. So a typical Maine man might say, “Honey, (insert man kinfolk or drinking buddy names here) and I need to get to camp Friday night to start the beans at 4 a.m. Saturday.” BOOM. Party started…and with zero argument from the womenfolk, who know the stakes involved and support the cause.
Willoughby rightly points out that baked beans are easy to make in the oven. They’re also the best and highest use of that blasted CrockPot wedding gift you got. But really, the feeling you get when you bury food in the ground, wait patiently while communing with friends, and finally get to open the lid of a steaming hot pot of local tradition is the real magic of the bean hole bean.