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Chocolate Moose and Other Maine Goodies
March 15, 2006

We've made it! It's Maine week all over town as Artsfest celebrates the State of Maine. Certainly we're going to be busy with brown bag lunches and evening concerts. It's hard to decide what all to do.

I know that I'll be at the art exhibits at the Library, probably several times. It's hard to take it all in in a single visit. And I definitely know where I'll be on Saturday morning—Willis Park. From 10 until mid afternoon, it's going to be non-stop fun for all.

Then we'll wind down and start thinking about next year. But don't say good-bye to Maine quite yet. Why not slip some good Maine dishes into the oven as a grand finale?

When I spoke with Jan Forrester about her Maine childhood she told me one thing that was for sure about Maine. That's what is cooking on Saturday night. No matter where you are in the state, she told me the air will be rich with the aroma of baking beans.

While we might do a little fun fundraising with a fish fry or a chicken pilau dinner, all across New England it's baked beans dinners at the school house, the firehouse or the church hall. It's always been that way.

Maine legends say that Penobscot Indians started the tradition by cooking beans in a hole in the ground. They call them bean-hole beans. I admit I haven't tried this—yet. It something to do when the grandkids come to visit in the summer.

Bean-Hole Beans

Soak dry beans over night.

Dig a hole in the ground about 3 feet deep. Line the hole with rocks. Build a fire and let it burn down to the coals.

Combine the beans with molasses, chunks of salt pork, and a little mustard in a cast iron pot. Cover with water. Put on the lid and lower the pot into the hole. Place a wet cloth on the lid. Put some coals on the cloth, and then cover it all with dirt. Let it cook for a long, long time—12 to 16 hours.

As much fun as that sounds, I'm more likely to make a traditional pot full of beans. I like this recipe because it includes another good Maine ingredient—maple syrup!

Traditional Maine Baked Beans

2 lbs of dry beans
1 medium onion
1/2 cup of packed brown sugar
1/2 lb of salt pork
1/2 tsp of dry mustard
1/2 tsp ginger
2 cups maple syrup
Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the beans, and then soak over night. In the morning, drain them and cover with fresh water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer. Cook until the beans are tender, about one hour. Drain the water off and put it aside. Place the onion in the bottom of a bean pot and pour the beans into the pot. Slice the salt pork into chunks and place on top of the beans. In a bowl, mix the maple syrup, dry mustard, ginger, salt, and pepper. Add one cup of the water the beans were cooked in, stir together and pour the mixture over the beans. Add more of the bean water to the pot until it reaches one inch above the beans. Bake in the oven for six to eight hours at 250 degrees.

The traditional accompaniment for beans is steamed brown bread.

Brown Bread in a Can

1 cup sifted rye flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt
1cup cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup raisins
3/4 cup dark molasses

Soak 4 16-ounce fruit or vegetable cans to remove the labels. Dry and grease and flour the cans.

Sift together the rye flour, soda and salt. Stir in the cornmeal, whole-wheat flour and spices. Combine the buttermilk and molasses and stir in, then add the raisins. Divide the batter among the cans. Cover each tightly with foil. Pace the cans on a rack in a deep pot and add boiling water to a depth of 1 inch. Cover and steam for about 3 hours. Add more water if necessary. The bread is done when it has risen almost to fill the can and center is slightly puffy. Cool for 10 minutes, and then take the bread out by removing the bottom of the can and pushing the bread out.

If all this seems like lots of trouble, then take the easy way out and run by the supermarket. B&M baked beans are made in Maine and taste almost as good as the homemade variety. You can buy the brown bread as well or substitute rye toast.

For dessert? Why not honor the State Animal of Maine—the moose.

Chocolate Moose Pie

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
2 cups Cool Whip
2 small boxes chocolate instant pudding
3 cup milk
2 ready made graham cracker pie shells

Blend cream cheese, sugar, and Cool Whip together and spread on pie shells. Blend chocolate pudding and spread on top of cream cheese. Top with Cool Whip and nuts. This makes 2 pies.

This a fun (and easy) dessert, but if you are ever up Maine way you can drop by Len Libby Candies in Scarborough right on Route 1 and visit a real life-size chocolate moose. Lenny (who weights 1,700 pounds) is made out of milk chocolate. It took four weeks to sculpt him. He stands in a pond of tinted white chocolate. But look only! No tasting.

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