Broken Up Over Bean Pots

Our neighbor over on the point has met with a great loss, although as I write he doesn't know it. His bean pot went kerbust.

These things happen, and one answer is to go buy another bean pot. But ancient bean pots, long in loving service and comfy as old slippers, have special gentility and gloss and sheen and patina. As soon as the good man hears of this tragedy, he will be overwhelmed by emotional turmoil and will wring his hands in dismay.

The bottom dropped out of the thing. At the time, it was full of frozen baked beans, and we presume that continued freezing and thawing weakened the potter's art and caused part A to sunder from part B and go a separate way. Since the beans were frozen, there was no mess to gather up, and now we have to break the news to Douglass.

For some time now, Douglass has depended on us for beans, which he dearly loves on Saturday nights to bring his week to a happy end.

Since Douglass is the only person in his household who eats baked beans, the solution we worked out makes sense. My resident bean-baker simply sticks some extras into our corporation-size pot, and late Saturday afternoon dishs out a mite more than a pint and puts them in a small pot we keep just for Douglass. He comes to get them with punctilious timing, devours them, and on Sunday mornings returns the washed pot for future reference. This keeps Douglass fat and happy, and gives us the philanthropic joy that is the adequate reward for all good Samaritans.

Memory has faded as to where we, or Douglass, got the pot that has just failed us. A good kiln-fired earthenware bean pot is hard to find today, and this one was approaching antiquity. It didn't get frozen too often, but some weeks my wife would bake on an off day or Douglass would plan to be away over the weekend, and the little pot would get shoved in with the chops to congeal and await further orders.

Fifty years ago, any store on any Down-East main street kept bean pots in stock, but today's cattle-range merchandising supermarkets are staffed by folks who've never heard of bean pots.

Some years back, our family bean pot collapsed between oven and table, and my wife couldn't find a replacement. Somebody said, ``Don't hunt here. Get one in Canada when you go up. All the stores have them - French Canadians still live on baked beans.''

This advice proved good. But if somebody tries to tell you all foreigners speak English, you are free to dispute. I sat on a bench and watched my same wife disappear into the throng that was milling about the huge chain department store, which stretched away into the Arctic distance like Hudson Bay on the way to Pond Inlet. She rounded Cape Cookies and I saw her no more.

I was more than patient, and I began to imagine that shortly carrier pigeons would arrive, asking me to send pemmican, blubber, and other salvation by dog sled. But after a few midnight suns she emerged, followed by a parade of concerned clerks, floor-walkers, and corporate officials who were all eager to help this frantic woman, but who needed first to know what a bean pot was. My wife shouted, ``Tell `em I need a bean pot!'' My Canadian French is impeccable. I immediately said, ``Un poe pour day bin.''

A stock boy stepped around the end of an aisle and came at once with a carton on which was printed: ``BEAN POT Made In Korea''. It was just what she wanted. It is still in service.

The earthenware bean pot, now so seldom to find, was by no means the correct thing in the days of old. In the early Maine logging days, when beans were a staple at every lumber-camp meal, there was a steel bean pot available. It was of maybe 12- or 15-quart size and had a steel cover with a snug fit. It was shaped more like a pail than a crockery bean pot. It would fit in the oven of a cook-shack range, but its design was meant for bean-hole use on the ``drive.''

At the conclusion of the winter harvest of logs, the crew prepared for the spring freshet, or ``runoff,'' and the cook put his gear and supplies in a wagon and made ready to feed his men as they herded the logs down river to the mill.

On ahead, the cook would dig holes in the ground, line them with suitable rocks, and light a fire. The fire got new fuel, and soon the rocks were oven hot. Soaked and seasoned, the beans were laid into a steel bean pot, capped by salt pork and blessed with a pinch of ginger, the cover was fitted, and the pot lowered amongst the hot rocks. When the cover was opened at the arrival of the crew, the wilderness was wafted with the glory of pork and beans.

I know not where one might procure an old steel bean pot of those happy times, but I can tell you where you can see one. It will cost you a day's ride, for it's far up in the numbered townships of Maine's Great North Woods.

Leaving Greenville at the southern end of Moosehead Lake, go up the eastern shore to Lily Bay and on to Kokadjo. Shortly, you'll come to Maine's Golden Road. Turning right, you will be headed for Ripogenus Dam, but well before this dam you will make a left turn on the road to Chesuncook Dam, which is the spot you want.

After the last spring drive on the West Branch, the Great Northern Paper Company erected a monument to the memory of the legendary river driver. Atop the shaft, lest the cook be forgotten, is a steel bean-hole bean pot. There is a lunch ground; take a picnic and you will thank me.

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