Cooking Wild Recipe: Bean-Hole Beans

Recipe Special: Baked beans with bacon cooked in an underground pit are the best beans ever.

I love baked beans and, contrary to what some contemporary cooks might think, I’m not full of hot air when I boast about bean-hole beans being the best beans recipe ever!

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For as long as I can remember, bean-hole beans have held ground as being my favourite hunting-and-fishing-camp supper. I learned the recipe from Dad who, in turn, picked up the old recipe in his younger days of lumberjacking in remote logging camps of Muskoka, Ontario, where, according to Dad, “A Pot of beans was always in the hole.”

Even though Dad claimed that the recipe for bean-hole beans was a lumberjack special invented by some clever old logging camp cook, history traces the roots of pit cooking back hundreds of years to an early North American tribe known as the Penobscot, who were indigenous to what is now the Maritimes and northeastern United States.

What I enjoy most about bean-hole beans, aside from the taste, is the fact that once the pot is “set up” the night before or early in the morning, one can rest assured that a hot and hearty supper will be ready to dig into immediately upon returning to camp after working up a big appetite on the trail. And good news is, you don’t have to give a second thought to the pot until hunger strikes!

The secret to perfect bean-hole beans is having a cast-iron Dutch oven that has a tight fitting lid. First Nations people used clay vessels before cast-iron pots came into being. A pot with a well-fitted lid prevents steam from escaping which produces super-moist and tender beans while keeping dirt out of the pot.

Navy beans are the traditional bean called for, but over the years I’ve found that other types of beans and bean recipes can be adapted for the bean-hole cooking method.

If you want to dig in to the best beans ever, next time you’re camped out in the woods, give Dad’s traditional old recipe below a try. Recipe:

Ingredients

  • 3 cups dried navy beans
  • ¼ pound smoked side bacon cut in cubes
  • 5 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 chopped onions
  • 1 chopped sweet red pepper
  • 2 teaspoons crushed dried chilies (optional, but I like it zesty)
  • ¾ cup molasses
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • Water

Wash beans and place in a large zip-lock bag. Add enough cold water to cover and let soak while building up a campfire that will yield a good bed of coals when needed.

Dig a hole alongside the fire about two feet deep and large enough to accommodate your Dutch-oven. (If you don’t tote a shovel to camp, you’ll want to add one to your list of supplies. A collapsible backpack shovel will do for those who are packing any distance to camp.)

Line the bottom of the hole with rocks. This helps maintain and distribute heat evenly.

Over the open fire, fry bacon in the Dutch-oven until fat is released. Add garlic, onion and peppers and cook until onion is soft. Add drained beans to the pot along with remaining ingredients. Cover with water, leaving about one inch headspace. Put on lid and bring to a boil over the fire.

Rake about a three-inch deep bed of coals into the hole and set the pot of boiling beans on top the coals. Cover the pot with a damp piece of burlap (as Dad used) or an old woven placemat (that I find is easier to come by). This prevents the shovel from knocking off the lid when you dig the pot back up.

Rake more coals over top of the cloth-covered pot and then bury it completely with soil. If you see any steam escaping, shovel more dirt over the hole and pack it down.

That’s it! Forget about the beans for at least 10 hours — or longer. Work up a big appetite, then dig up and dig in!

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