Friday, March 22, 2013

Shanty Beans

Shanty Beans

My dad was French Canadian from Quebec. Even now I have to remind myself not to spell it “Canadien”. We didn’t have a big legacy from the Quebecois. Just our names and a few things like being avid and talented fisherman and cooking hearty food. My dad told a story of how he learned to fish. When he was under 10 years old he and his dad Edmund would take off in a large canoe on the Ottawa River to fish for sturgeon. His mother and grandmother would stand on the shore crying and waving. They were pretty sure he wouldn’t come back again. Canoes are tippy and the Ottawa River is big and treacherous where they put in. But he did come back again and he taught me how to make a special homespun dish. He called it “Shanty Beans”.

Shanty Beans are the soul of simplicity. To make it authentically you need a shovel and a dutch oven. You need the shovel to dig a hole just a bit bigger than your dutch oven. You’re going to get some hot coals from your campfire and you’re going to put some of the coals in the bottom of the hole. Then you’re going to put the dutch oven filled with the bean ingredients in the hole on top of the coals. You’re going to put a single layer of coals on top of that. Then you’re going to cover up the whole thing with a layer of dirt and when you come back in 3-4 hours your beans are cooked to perfection and you’re going to feast.

Your clothes will be scented with wood smoke and the air is going to be crisp and clear and you’re going to have a big appetite because you’ve been up since before dawn to catch fish and clean them. This is if you’re Canadian and you’re a backwoodsman.

Even if you’re not you can still have an authentic (enough) pot full of beans. Here’s my dad’s recipe. Once you’ve assembled it and it’s cooking you should go out and chop some wood so when you come back to eat you’ll have earned all the calories you’re going to consume.

Shanty Beans

2 cups great northern beans

9 x 12 baking dish with lid

4 dollops of lard (roughly 2 tablespoons each)

½ cup of sliced salt pork rendered in a cast iron skillet

½ medium onion diced

Salt and pepper to taste

Water sufficient to cover the beans

Soak your beans overnight in twice as much water as the volume of beans. (You can omit this step and put the dry beans and ingredients in a bean pot big enough to cover the beans with water. If you do it this way you’ll have to keep an eye on the beans and add water as they absorb it during cooking.) Otherwise in the morning pour off the water and put the beans aside while you prepare everything else. Dice the onions. Set aside. Dice the salt pork and render it in an iron skillet over medium heat. Grease your baking dish with lard and put everything in it. Dot the beans with lard. Sprinkle the beans with onions. Scatter salt pork over beans. Salt and pepper to taste. Add water to almost cover the beans. Bake in 325 degree oven for a couple of hours to your tenderness satisfaction. (if you’ve started with dry beans it will take all day). Goes really well with homemade bread and butter. Makes 4 good size servings.

We ate half of them before I remembered I needed to take a picture of them. When you see food like this you eat it!

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