Monday, April 11, 2011


The alchemists of antiquity (and the Renaissance) had it right when it came to transfiguration.  The changing of the base metal and the human into a dazzling new form.  Lead into gold.  

Food products also manage a similarly amazing transfiguration in many ways, and today's post is dedicated to one in particular, the dried bean.  The transformation from a rock-like, inedible object to an amazingly delicious food item is nothing short of alchemy.  

We'll go with an old favorite, Boston Baked Beans, in honor of my soon-to-be main base - but the initial process could be used for any dried bean or other pulse. Today's recipe will also be a great meta-post, using a few of the other items that you may have created during your time reading the blog.

Alchemical Beans
- A quantity of Dried beans (415g / 2 cups would be a reasonable starting point)
- The skin from your smoked bacon (if you haven't made bacon yet, just use commercial bacon and write yourself a note to make some soon)
- An onion or so, chopped
- A heavy kind of pour of Blackstrap molasses *
- 120 ml. / heavy 1/2 cup of your ketchup (again, make a note for yourself if you have to use the commercial garbage)
-  Some spices in moderate quantities (dry mustard, black pepper, and salt are really the only non-negotiables)
You have to start your alchemy a good day in advance.  Put your dried beans into a bowl and cover them with water.  Let it sit overnight.  When you go back, you should be amazed that the beans have now puffed up, swelled into small pillows of joy that herald the coming transfiguration. Drain them.

Now, get some salty fresh water (I have tried not to put water in the ingredients above - I always feel a bit pedantic doing so - as if you all are not aware of how to fill a pot of water). Boil it, and add your pillows of joy a bit at a time so that the boiling doesn't become discouraged (the water worked itself up to a nice boiling temperature, don't harsh its mellow by dumping your beans in like a payloader!).  Allow the beans to boil for however long it takes to get them tender.  Though attractive, your pillows of joy in their unboiled state will break your teeth.  Effect their second transfiguration by boiling.

At this point, the beans are ready for a number of other transfigurations.  

The philosopher's stone here is your smoked pig skin, which is why I would highly suggest using it instead of commercial bacon.  Lay your skin at the bottom of some sort of crock that can hold up to oven temperatures (you could also use a slow cooker).  Combine all of the other elements (including the twice-great beans) in another container and pour them over your skins.  Now cover and either slow cook on low for 8 or 10 hours or put into a gentle oven (300º F / 148º C) for 4 hours**.  Your pig skin should be offering itself to you in a full way by this time. 

Your beans are now thrice-great, and have been transfigured into something that is truly beautiful.  Pull your giving pig skin out, and chop it into small nudule-like chunks.  Add them back into your thrice-great beans and marvel while you contemplate the great mystery of your transfigured beans.  

* Some folks sugar their beans up with brown sugar - but I find that molasses is a far more complex addition to what is a truly delicate alchemy.  Table sugar is just a bit too fierce, and prevents my enjoyment of this dish.

** I was making these beans the other day and had left them to transfigure while I was at work.  Our landlords are selling the house and we had a showing that day.  The folks who were looking may have been driven mad by all of the magical energy in the air, but it was certainly for the best.

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