Syracuse, New York is the hometown of Tom Cruise, Grace Jones and Bobcat Goldthwait as well as my partner Jake. 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”. He also claims they came over on the Concorde, but I know for a fact that his family, while well-off and of Greek descent, settled in New England over a thousand years after my Choctaw ancestors reached Nanih Waiya.
Jake sniffs at my Southern heritage, reminding me that his folks used to contribute to programs for eradicating hookworm and pellagra in Mississippi. He came to Jackson two decades ago and stayed because he likes the weather. People still ask him where he’s from, and it drives him nuts. I try not to smile.
With a few notable exceptions—chicken and dumplings foremost—Jake loves Southern food, so in a effort to be charitable, I decided to learn how to make good Yankee baked beans using the sturdy bean pots he brought back from Maine last year. (No, I didn’t go; he was meeting his mother to visit an aunt, and I felt much better off here with cable.) I used a pound of navy beans, a cup of diced 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 a teaspoon or so black pepper, about a cup of chopped onion powder and a heaping teaspoon of dry mustard. Once in the pot and covered, they went into the oven at around 250, and there they stayed for eight hours. 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 credited the results to the wonderful pots he bought from New England, so I whacked him with a wooden spoon.