For 75 years, the Smith/Smart family has gathered annually in Maine to enjoy each other’s company and feast on a potluck meal. There’s always one staple: real bean-hole baked beans. John Madden, whose mother was a Smart, says that the family sometimes has three pots of beans going at once. (“They eat a lot of beans up there, morning, noon, and night sometimes,” says John’s wife, Evelyn.) John suggests using a three-legged, cast-iron kettle with a flared sheet metal cover to bake the beans in. From John Madden
Pick over the beans, remove any bad ones and take out any pebbles, then wash beans. Soak beans overnight in plenty of water to cover. Meanwhile, dig a two-foot-wide bean hole to have it ready for the next day (be sure the hole is at least two feet deep). Collect eight to ten fist-size rocks, along with an ample supply of softwood, like pine or hemlock.
The next morning, add water to the beans to cover, and parboil them until the skins pop when you blow on them (about 20 minutes). In the meantime, fill the bean hole about ¾ full of wood and light a fire. Place the rocks on top, and add more wood.
Drain the beans. In a large iron pot that has a flared cover, put in a layer of salt pork, half the beans, the rest of the salt pork, and the rest of the beans. Mix the mustard, salt, and pepper into the molasses, and pour into the pot. Fill the pot with hot water, just to cover the beans. Place a brown paper shopping bag between the pot and its top to make a seal.
When the fire has burned down to red-hot coals and the rocks are red hot (after 1 to 1-½ hours), use a long-handled spade to push the rocks to one side of the hole. Carefully set the pot into the hole so it’s level. Nestle the rocks around the pot, and use one large hot rock to weight the top.
Cover the pot and hole with four to six inches of soil (checking first to make sure the lid is on tight so no dirt gets into the beans), and let it cook for 8 hours. Shovel off the dirt and remove the pot. If the beans seem dry, make a ½-inch indentation in the beans, add a little boiling water, and let it set in before eating.