The temperature hit ninety degrees yesterday, just right for burgers and beers with friends. Our plan also called for a garden salad plus homemade baked beans, but who wants the oven on all day when it’s so hot out? Here was the perfect opportunity to check out the concept of the hay box cooker, which is said to work like a no-energy Crockpot. Mine wasn’t elegant: I’m talking about a cooler insulated with crumpled newspaper, styrofoam scraps, and shredded paper, with a Dutch oven nestled at the center. The setup maintained heat relatively well, though there’s definitely room for improvement. Time cooked the beans to tenderness — but I ended up finishing them in the oven, to thicken the sauce. They came out wonderfully hot, sweet and spicy, a perfect way to anticipate summer.

Recipe: New England Baked Beans

2 cups pinto beans / 1 onion, peeled and halved / 4 cloves / ¼ cup molasses / 5 tablespoons brown sugar / 3 tbls dijon mustard / salt & pepper / cayenne pepper to taste / ¼ lb salt pork, lardo, or other cured pork

Boil 6 cups of water in a small Dutch oven or equivalent pot. Add beans, turn off heat, cover, and let rest for an hour. Add one half-onion, cover, return to a boil, then simmer on low for another hour. Remove onion and discard. Whisk together molasses, 3 tbls brown sugar, mustard, 2 tsp salt, the peppers, and ½ cup of bean cooking liquid. Pour mixture into pot and stir. Pierce remaining onion half with cloves and submerge. Add the whole chunk of cured pork.

Bring beans to a fast boil. Cover pot tightly and boil on high heat for several minutes, then carefully place pot in hay box cooker. Leave undisturbed for about eight hours or until beans are very tender. Alternately, bake for five hours in a 250 degree oven. Remove onion half and correct seasoning if desired before serving. Feeds 6-8 as a side dish.

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