Jake is from Syracuse, New York, which is the home of other such oddballs as Tom Cruise, Grace Jones and Bobcat Goldthwait, but his people hail from New England. He claims that they came over not on the Mayflower but on the Concorde, and that his ancestors were involved in Greek shipping. Every now and then after a few glasses of wine he’ll talk about “Uncle Ari and Aunt Jackie”, but I know for a fact that his family, while well-off and of Greek descent, settled in Maine no later than a century after my people came to Virginia. He sniffs at my proud Southern heritage, reminding me that his folks used to contribute to organizations that were devoted to eradicating hookworm in Alabama and teaching adults in South Carolina how to read. How he came to Mississippi two decades ago is an epic tale, but here he’s been, and even after all that time, people still ask him, “Where are you from?” It drives him nuts; I try not to smile.
Jake, with a few notable exceptions—chicken and dumplings foremost—loves Southern foods, so in an effort to be charitable myself, I decided to learn how to make good Yankee baked beans using the sturdy bean pots brought back from Maine. I used a pound of navy beans because I couldn’t find pea beans (a oxymoronic ambiguity if I ever heard one), a diced cup of ham with rind instead of the salt pork more authentic recipes call for, and since I was out of black strap, a half cup of sorghum molasses had to do. The soaked beans, pork and syrup went into the pots at noon, covered with water seasoned with salt, black pepper, onion powder and dry mustard. Once in the pot, they went into the oven at around 250. Sometime around six, I found them tender, and Rebel that I am, I have to admit that these are superb; the dry mustard cuts the sweetness just enough to let the beans make a statement, and the texture is close to creamy. Jake said they are really good, but credited the flavor to the pot, so I had to whack him with the wooden spoon. Twice.