On Sunday, Phil and I arrived home after an afternoon out to find that we didn’t have any running water. Unfortunately for me, I was just about to get in to a shower. Bummer. My initial thought was “Oh crap did we not pay the water bill?” as I looked at Phil accusingly from the bathroom in just my towel, and he said frantically, “Not in months! But it’s a quarterly bill, and we definitely didn’t have any notices!” He quickly checked online and rummaged through the most recent pile of mail to be sure we didn’t have any bright orange notices that we somehow missed. After I got re-dressed, I told him to skip the wild goose chase and just call the police to see if something was up. After a five second phone call, we found out that the water pipe burst at our street, causing the whole town to lose water. Perfect. At least it wasn’t an unpaid bill.
After apologizing for getting rather testy about responsibilities (of which I shouldn’t talk – he takes care of ALL the bills because I am not to be trusted, so I really shouldn’t judge) we quickly realized that it's terrible to not have plumbing! We couldn’t flush the toilets, wash our hands, rinse our dishes or make dinner. It got me thinking about our home, how old it is and how relatively recent indoor plumbing is to this place. Imagining all the families that have grown up in this house - all the baths heated over the fire places, the drinking water that was pumped from a well, the outhouse that must have existed somewhere on our property - it’s much easier to visualize without running water.
We think our house was built somewhere around 1780, but don’t have any proof other than the architecture and the layout of our road. There’s an older man that lives up the street from us, he is such a sweet guy who was so welcoming when we moved in. He’s an amazing gardener and he always drops off bunches of tomatoes or green beans, a few ears of corn or some raspberries. He used to be a historian for the town of Beverly, the town right next to us, and he said that our house was the first one built on our road. He thinks it was built by a man that owned a mill off the river behind our house. Who knows if he’s right, but I’d love to find out. He also gave us a little tidbit of information about our chimney – apparently, back during the Revolutionary War, and in years after that, the English knew that a home was a safe haven for them if the chimney was painted white with a black band around the top. Our house was apparently a Tory house, because we have that white chimney. Welcome, Brits!
We have one room off the living room that we refer to as “the office” because that’s what we dubbed it when we moved in. In actuality, it’s been our bedroom, the room for Phil’s music, then the stuff for my food photography, then the dumping ground for all the other things we needed to move around. Before we moved in and turned it in to whatever it is today, it was a den, but before that – like, way way before that - it was the kitchen. The heartbeat of the home. It has the most amazing fireplace with a big beehive oven and a large cast iron arm for hanging a steaming cauldron. It so witchy and colonial and I want so desperately to use it.
Having no running water for 24 hours really made me think about using this little room more often, to try and bring it back to what it used to be. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way in the past one hundred years or so, this room was moved from a kitchen to just, well, a room. I don’t know if it was done in the 1980s or the 1880s, but at some point it was changed. I really want to change it back, but that will be a much larger project. Someday, perhaps. Until then I plan on cleaning it out, maybe moving a table in there or something, and doing some open hearth cooking. It's not something many people do anymore, with the ease of modern kitchens, but cooking over an open fire is just so much better. The food tastes better, the home is nice and toasty, and the pride that comes with knowing you've cooked like the colonial pioneer that you are is so much more rewarding - right? Right.
Sometimes when its late, or on the days that I am home alone and its suspiciously quiet in the house, I can look around our old rooms and see in my mind the people that once lived here. I can hear the clanging of pots and pans, hear the horse hooves trotting down the road. I can smell the faint scent of a fire, fires that burned hundreds of years ago, yet they still linger in the air. I love the feeling of the wide planked floorboards beneath my feet, the boards that have held countless babies as they learn to crawl, then to walk. Babies that grew and saw things in our country, things that seem like folk tales now. The people that walked through this house, once upon a time, fought in the Civil War. They saw the invention of electricity, the first telephone. They survived through the Great Depression and watched the first flight of an airplane. They saw the dirt road right outside of our front door turn from dust to tar, the buggies morph from horse drawn carriages to motorcars. This house has seen tremendous things, and felt incredible changes.
It may sound crazy, but I believe that houses hold on to the emotions and feelings of its inhabitants. Thankfully for us, this house is a happy one. While I am sure the lives of all the people that lived here were not all roses and sunshine (how could it be without running water!), I am confident that this home has always held love. People often ask me if I have had any creepy encounters, or seen any ghosts in our old home - while I would love to say yes - the answer is a definite no. I don't have any feelings of fear in this house, no scary moments or worries of hauntings. Although this house has most definitely seen many things in the past two hundred and thirty years, it is my belief that it has all been good. And I'd like to keep it that way, so that the next family can welcome my ghost knowing that I'm a friendly one.
As much as I would love to have slow cooked this recipe in the beehive oven, there are some other steps to take first. Perhaps once the hearth has been cleaned thoroughly, the spider webs have been removed from the ovens and the chimney has been inspected so I don’t burn down our house, then I can use the fireplaces for what they were intended. Until then, I suppose the oven will have to do. And besides, everyone needs an alternative method to hearth cooking anyway.
I have never made baked beans before this little experiment. I honestly had no idea how it was going to go. I imagined hours slaving over the stove, with a watery or soupy result, but to my relief they turned out perfect. They are sweet and rich with strong flavors of molasses and clove. The stewed apples compliment the beans so nicely with their tart juiciness.
A hot bowl of these beans on a crisp autumn night, sitting at our long dining room table that my husband made, it is easy to see the other faces around the table in the candle light. Faces that have known this house for much longer than I have. They are familiar, as if I have known them my whole life, as if we were meant to share this table in this home, like it was written before any of us were born. And perhaps that’s how old houses are meant to be, bringing together the souls that were destined to know each other, even from beyond the grave.
• 3 large apples (I used Cortland, they are my favorite) peeled and cored, chopped into small bite sized pieces
• 1 tablespoon brown sugar
• ½ teaspoon cinnamon
In a small saucepan over medium heat combine all the ingredients.
Bring to a steady simmer and cook the apples until they are soft and easily pierced with a fork. Don’t let them overcook however, or they will turn to applesauce.
Once the apples are soft, remove them from the heat and allow to cool slightly. They will keep in the fridge for one week.
•Slow Cooked Baked Beans•
adapted from this Ina Garten recipe
• 3 lbs beans (I used a combination of cranberry beans and light red kidney beans)
• one large yellow onion, chopped
• 1 cup apple cider
• 1 cup molasses
• 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• ½ teaspoon ground cloves
• 1 teaspoon sea salt
• ½ lb bacon, chopped in to small pieces
• one small apple studded with cloves
• four sausages (I used apple maple sausages from our local farm)
Place the beans in a large pot or bowl and cover with water. Cover and let stand overnight. Drain and rinse the beans.
Put the beans and the onion in a large Dutch oven, and cover with 2 quarts of water and the apple cider. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer the beans and onions for about an hour, or until the beans are soft and their skins are easily removed. Drain the beans, save their cooking liquid and set aside. Return the beans and onions to the Dutch oven.
Preheat the oven to 225F.
In a saucepan combine the molasses, the brown sugar, the spices, salt and 1 ½ cups of the reserved cooking liquid. Bring the mixture to a low simmer, stirring frequently.
Pour the molasses mixture over the beans and onion, mix to combine. Add in the bacon, half at first and stir to combine them thoroughly, topping off the top with the second half. Place the clove studded apple in the middle of the beans.
Place the lid on the Dutch oven and bake for 6 hours. Check the beans occasionally, and if they need more liquid you can add the reserved cooking liquid by ½ cup at a time.
An hour before the beans are done, brown the sausages in a large cast iron pan over medium high heat. Make sure all sides are golden. Add the sausages to the pot of beans and continue to cook for the remaining cooking time.
Serve the beans hot with the roasted sausage and stewed apples.
listening to: This is Us by Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris