It was a tradition among my dad’s siblings to host the family Christmas dinner. This extravaganza of food in a family that was predominantly Russian Orthodox always fell on January 7, the date that Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas, the date that my family simply referred to as Russian Christmas. To me, little heathen that I was, it was a chance to eat some of the best food on the planet.
My dad’s four sister’s performed what looked like miracles to my eyes. Pierogi stuffed with mashed potatoes and cheddar cheese; sauerkraut and sausages slowly cooked in a low oven; poppy seed bread rolled in sheets of dough so thin that one could almost see the baker’s hand between dough and table.
Among my favorites in this abundance of food was Aunt Pearl’s Boston baked beans. Savory thick sauce; tender nut-brown beans…even I, a born picky eater, looked forward to this culinary tour-de-force with an enthusiasm that surprised my folks.
And what does this ornament of a ship have to do with Aunt Pearl’s Boston baked beans? Here’s the story.
Many years later I thought again of Pearl and her beans while I hung this little ornament–a gift from Pearl. Spouse and I would be attending a friend’s pot luck a few days later and I knew those beans would be a hit.
I got on the phone. “Pearl,” I said. “You have got to give me your recipe for your Boston baked beans. They’re hands down the best beans I have ever tasted!”
“Of course!” she said. “Got a pencil handy?”
I tucked the phone’s receiver between my ear and shoulder, ready to write.
“You’ll need some mustard, a bit of ketchup, and some brown sugar. Toss them into a pot with a large can of B&M Baked Beans.” Then she stopped.
“That’s it?” I said.
“Well, you’ll have to stir it and taste it now and then. If it tastes good, it’s ready.”
Another cooking lesson learned: simplify, simplify, simplify.