How to Cook a Bean Hole Supper Like a Mainer
Vice president of the Patten Lumbermen’s Museum Ken Libby gives us his tips and tricks for this subterranean delicacy.
First, gather your wood. “With the biscuits and the beans, we use about two cords,” says Ken Libby, vice president of the Patten Lumbermen’s Museum, which has been holding bean hole dinners on the second Saturday of August since 1965 to celebrate the important role the meal played in Maine’s lumbering history. But assuming you’re not planning to feed 600 people, you might need only about 100 pounds of wood. Then, get digging. The holes they dig at the museum are about three feet deep and 20 inches around to accommodate 14-inch-tall steel pots. Whatever size pot you use, be sure it has a heavy lid that drops down over the outside by a couple of inches to keep out dirt and coals. Cast-iron pots have mostly gone by the wayside, even here. “They leak a lot of moisture, and the beans often come out mushy,” explains Libby. “If you’re really hungry I guess it wouldn’t bother you too much.” Libby and his team divide 150 pounds of dried yellow-eye beans between 16 to 18 pots—about 9 pounds per pot. In the morning, start by presoaking the beans with just enough water to cover them, then start a fire in the hole. Once the fire is going, hang the pot over the fire (the museum uses a system of posts and cables) to parboil the beans before adding the fixings. “We use quite a lot of dry mustard, salt pork, onions, molasses, salt, and pepper,” Libby says. “The recipe’s here somewhere, but it wouldn’t do you any good unless you have the same size pots we have.” Once everything is mixed together, shovel out half of the coals and store them in a tub, then lower the pot into the hole. (“This takes us two men to handle,” Libby says.) Then dump the extra coals over the pot and up the sides, and cover it all up with the dirt that came out of the ground. Don’t forget to put a wire on the bail of the pot that sticks up above the ground, so you remember where you buried it. With your beans buried by the afternoon, there’s nothing left to do but wait until the next morning to dig them out. “Sometimes the crew brings beverages with them,” says Libby. “We don’t let them get into it until they’re done handling those hot pots, though.”
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