Before there were crock pots for slow cooking, we had bean pots.
I’ve been working my way through Marjorie Standish’s cook books which I know many of you have copies of. She wrote a weekly column for the Maine Sunday Telegram in Portland, and included recipes from her mother and grandmother that she remembered from her childhood. She used recipes from friends, neighbors, readers of her column called “Cooking Down East,” and collected from women she met as she conducted cooking schools for Central Maine Power to introduce homemakers to electric stove cooking.
Mrs. Standish spoke fondly, nostalgically, about the kitchen she grew up in with big wood burning cook stove, iron kettles for soups and chowders, spiders for frying in, and the smell of beans baking in the old bean pot.
I am pretty sure I have mentioned my large old bean pot, acquired when I was about fourteen at an Owl’s Head antique shop, big enough to make beans for a public bean supper, and another smaller one I have suitable for family sized bean suppers. When the weather is as chilly as it has been, I use my bean pot in the cook stove which we run to keep the kitchen warm, and when I bumped into Mrs. Standish’s “Bean Pot Chicken Breasts,” I went down cellar and pulled some frozen chicken out to thaw in order to make a slow-cooked supper at the same time we kept the house warm.
You might like to give her “bean-pot chicken breasts” the old crock pot treatment. Or you can do it in your bean pot, too. Her recipe calls for bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts which, when she was writing in the 1950s and ‘60s, still had the wings attached. If you have boneless breasts, you can certainly use them. I added some thighs, too.
Mrs. Standish instructed cooks to put a stick of butter or margarine in the pot first. I reduced that to half a stick of butter. She called for a peeled onion put into the pot whole, the breasts laid on top, and since she was conservative in her seasoning, recommended that the cook add poultry seasoning, salt and pepper to the meat. If you like a zippier flavoring, be our guest. This is an opportunity to go in a Tex-Mex direction with garlic, chili powder and cumin. If you like Italian seasonings try garlic, basil, oregano, and a couple of paste tomatoes chopped up and added. Or you can explore Thai, Barbecue, Moroccan, Creole, or Tunisian seasoning blends.
My dear old bean pot did a great job of keeping the chicken moist. I added just a splash of water at the start. I put it in my cook stove oven which keeps a temperature of about 250, went off to Sewing Circle at 1:00 p.m., came home around 4:30 and supper was ready.
Next time, I am going to add to the pot a couple carrots cut up, and a couple of ribs of celery cut in chunks. I served rice with it, pouring over the rice and chicken some of the juice that collected on the bottom of the pot. I also served some home-made peach chutney.
Mrs. Standish was pretty enthusiastic about this recipe. “No browning, no water,” she wrote, “Place in 300 degree oven for about 4 hours. You could even use 275 degrees and a 5-hour period. Isn’t this great?”
Actually it is. This flexible non-recipe allows the cook to assemble ingredients then essentially put them on cruise control according to the cook’s schedule. Pretty easy.
P.S. An error in the Anyberry Jam Bars Recipe: in the instructions for the bars, I omitted when to add the brown sugar. Please add the brown sugar along with the oatmeal. Some of you had a hard time getting the bars out of the pan, and if it was because of not having brown sugar, that should help. If it is still a problem, generously greasing and flouring the pan might make the difference. I am sorry if you struggled with that recipe, and I hope you will give it (and me) another chance.
- Half a stick of butter or 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- One large onion, peeled and quartered
- Chicken Breasts or Thighs, bone-in, skin-on or not, your choice
- Seasonings to taste—pre-prepared blends or your choice of herbs and spices
- Salt and Pepper
- A couple tablespoons of water
- Put all the ingredients in the bean or crock pot in the order given.
- Cover and bake in an oven at 275 for 4 to 5 hours, or 325 for 2 to 3 hours, or until chicken is tender and come easily off the bone.
- If you use a crock pot, follow manufacturer’s instruction for temperature and time settings.