Syracuse, New York is the home of oddballs like Tom Cruise, Grace Jones and Bobcat Goldthwait as well as Jake, but his people hail from New England–Maine: a fine geographical distinction–and claims they came over not on the Mayflower but the Concorde. His ancestors were involved in Greek shipping, and 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 Cape Elizabeth a about a bizillion years after my Choctaw ancestors reached Nitta Yuma.
Jake sniffs at my 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?” Of course it drives him nuts, and while I try not to smile I fail every time.
With a few notable exceptions—chicken and dumplings foremost—Jake loves Southern food, so in an effort to be charitable myself, I decided to learn how to make good Yankee baked beans using the sturdy ceramic (and undeniably charming pots he brought back from Maine that were specifically made for such a purpose. (No, I didn’t go; he was meeting his mother to visit an aunt and I felt much better off here with cable tv .) I used a pound of navy beans because I couldn’t find pea beans–an oxymoronic ambiguity if I ever heard one–a diced cup of ham with rind instead of salt pork, 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, and there they stayed until six hours later. Admittedly these beans are damn good; the dry mustard cuts the sweetness of the syrup just enough to let the beans make a statement, and the texture is close to creamy. Jake said my pot of beans was really good, but the bastard credited the flavor to the pot, so I had to whack him with the wooden spoon.