Neither heat nor cold bother me much. In winter, anything above 25 degrees strikes me as balmy, and as long as the temperature stays above minus 10 degrees, I’m happy. On the opposite extreme, during those all too few 90-degree-plus Fahrenheit days in a Maine summer, I routinely bicycle at least one hour a day, if not more. Extra drinking fluids help beat blistering temperatures, maybe as much as 40 ounces per hour while bicycling, and life goes on. Yes, the modern world offers too many negatives such as out-of-control terrorists for us to worry about weather extremes.

Despite my lack of concern about meteorological events, I have come to detest Maine winters – mostly out of boredom. Jolie, my intrepid companion, has no intentions of getting into downhill skiing, so I don’t ski, either. I’ve outgrown rabbit hunting, always disliked ice fishing and find long coyote-hunting vigils tedious. Sure, I do get out for these three sports now and then, but my dedication to them has slipped plenty. Back in the day, I forced myself to drag expensive Nikon cameras into Arctic-like cold, but winter can be hard on these electronic marvels, so I finally gave up winter wildlife photography.

I also flounder through winter with half-serious hiking on occasions and pedaling in the living room on a stationery bicycle or in the outdoors on a wide-tired bicycle. Moving to Florida or eastern Tennessee occupies my mind a lot, though, the latter state quite warm compared to winter here.

One undeniable joy of a Pine Tree State winter is preparing leisurely meals, and one such repast excites me – baking beans. (The oven going all day helps warm the house, too.) I’m very persnickety about my bean recipe, which came from an 1830s Boston cookbook. I borrowed the book in the early 1980s, wrote the recipe down and have cherished it ever since.

The cook gathers seven ingredients: 1 pound beans (I like navy), 1 teaspoon dry mustard, 1/4-cup molasses, 1 level teaspoon black pepper, 1 small to medium onion peeled, 1/2 to 1 pound salt pork and water to cover.

Parboiling beans before baking may create mushy beans at the end, so I prefer soaking them in cold water overnight – a rather foolproof cooking step. While the beans soak, I change the water when bubbles form, which come from fermentation starting. Old- timers advocated that step.


I put the drained beans, mustard, molasses and pepper in a bean pot and mix the ingredients before burying the onion and adding enough warm water to cover. Place the bean pot into a preheated 250-degree oven and bake 10 to 12 hours, a long cooking time all right. The result? Beans that are not mushy at all – just perfection.

Here’s another tip: During the baking, add water as the liquid simmers down. Make sure the water is very hot before pouring it into the beans, because adding cold water during cooking can make the beans hard. Also, at one point in the afternoon, allow the water level to drop below the beans, which browns them well. After the proper browning, put in enough hot water to cover the beans again.

My recipe has no added table salt because of the salt pork, but that’s a judgment call. Home chefs may add salt. Also, I like a half-pound of fatty pork as opposed to lean, because the latter creates too much gas during digestion – an old family legend. One pound of salt pork adds too much fat, hence my choice of a half-pound chunk.

The austere recipe creates a delicious flavor, but the cooking directions – I suspect – add more to the dish than the ingredients. Venison (or the lowly hot dog), yeast bread or biscuits, cole slaw and dill pickles add to the meal, as do coffee or orange-pekoe tea – a Saturday night dinner with a rich New England heritage.

Afterward, a grand hunting or fishing book in the mood genre creates fun reading – something from a Thomas McGuane or Ernest Schwiebert. If wind soughs under the eaves, so much the better. Spring may seem a long way off, but leisurely dinners like this speed the season faster toward April.

By the end of the coming week, we officially have four more weeks of winter before the equinox in March. Late winter storms may break our hearts, but we’re on the downhill stretch to spring now, even though the WCSH weather team has promised horrible winter weather through February, and “Farmers’ Almanac 2015” has predicted a wet, cold March.

Right now I am pining for an early spring to road bicycle, brook fish for trout and shoot photos with a new digital SLR Nikon outfit – grand endeavors that Maine offers outdoor types in the fourth month. As landscape turns green, life gets busy and really interesting.

Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at

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