Wednesday, December 03, 2008

No sooner had I posted yesterday’s deathless prose than the postman arrived at the door. I have done almost all my Christmas shopping on-line this year, and my reward is a constant series of pleasant boxes. Like having Christmas twice. I have never been disappointed with the quality of an object ordered like this, although in past years I’ve had some quarrels with delivery times.

Yesterday’s boxes were best of all, because as well as presents for other people, they included two from me to myself: Franklin’s book, and Nancy Bush on the Knitted Lace of Estonia.

I’m sure everybody else has got Franklin’s book by now – I went for the calendar first, because I feared it would sell out and become a famous unobtainable. The book is wonderful, better even than I expected and I doubt if I could praise it more highly than that.

I have not spent much time with Estonian lace yet. (I’ve read Franklin twice, straight through. The man is a genius.)

I think one of the most interesting things about Galina Khmeleva’s fascinating “Gossamer Webs”, about Orenburg lace, is the part about government regulation and control, going right back to Lenin. When the Soviet Union collapsed, so did standards – “lesser quality shawls are produced cheaply and quickly and sold inexpensively – the Russian market is awash in poor quality shawls.”

Estonia was only part of the Soviet Union (I learn from Bush) from 1944 to 1991. Knitting was done during that time through a cooperative. The director of the cooperative did a lot of valuable work in the 1970’s collecting, recording, and photographing patterns. Whether standards have declined recently, we aren't told.


The hat is fine. I tried it on again, in front of a mirror, and liked the effect. The 6” of ribbing is/are now virtually finished. Four inches of plain st st are meant to follow. EZ, in her only watchcap pattern I know of, is relaxed about length, and says that 11” in all, or even more, may be required. Her pattern, I think this is “Knitting Without Tears” I’m talking about, is in brioche stitch. I’ve knit it a couple of times, and love the result.

Phyllis and Shandy, thank you for the mitten-knitting thumb-tricks. Maybe I’ll really do some, before this winter is out. It’s bloody cold around here.

Boston baked beans

I wonder why we don’t get “navy” or “pea” beans here. Supermarkets are full of dried beans from all over the world.

Maryjo0, here is a link to something close to the bean recipe I used. I didn’t add salt when I was cooking the beans for the first time. In fact I wonder if I ever put in any, saltiness being provided by the pork. I used a pack of ham trimmings, sold “for soup” by my butcher. They melted deliciously into the beans. I didn’t use brown sugar, just molasses in a quantity less than that specified,(black treacle, in fact, which I think is the same thing), because of diabetic concerns.

The Gourmet Cook Book, which I am embarrassed to say I got as a wedding present, is emphatic that the water level must be kept level with, but not above, the level of the beans during the long cooking process. Too much, and you’re stewing rather than baking them. Too little, they dry out.


  1. You mentioned earlier the beans remaining firm or mushy depending on how they were when placed in the pot. This may well be a function of when salt was added, as it does slow the expansion of the starch granules considerably (as does acidity).

    Your post spurred me on to bake some kidney beans the other night, which turned out wonderfully even on a shortened baking cycle. Given my usual lack of time, I sped up the process by bringing unsoaked beans to pressure in my pressure cooker, and then turning them off and allowing the pressure to decrease naturally. By letting the pressure decrease slowly, they were very nearly fully cooked by the time I opened the pressure cooker lid, and then it was a matter of 3-4 hours baking time, the last hour of which was done with the lid off.

  2. Anonymous2:39 PM

    I cook most of my beans in a crock pot overnight, so that when I wake up in the morning I have fresh bean soup to ladle up for lunch, and I put the rest away for dinner. My favorite is the US Senate bean soup made with navy beans, hamhock, and lots of potatoes. Good soup for a cold nasty day. (Like we have been having here- because I live in faculty housing facilities is supposed to salt the path for us but they did not salt the stairs. So this morning I walked out carrying my dog because she can't do stairs anymore and slipped right down the stairs and landed on my side with 45 lbs of dog on my chest. Luckily neither of us were hurt- but my stairs were covered in a sheet of ice. )

    After you get a better look at the Nancy Bush book please let us know what you think of it. I have been debating buying it for a while now, especially now since I will be moving to warmer climates and will probably take up lace knitting in ernest.

  3. Anonymous2:41 PM

    Mel's comment made me think of the suggestion in my favourite (read: falling apart) cookbook, The Bean Book by Rose Elliot. She suggests a quick soak, by bringing to the boil and leaving to soak for one hour, if you have forgotten to soak the beans the night before.

    I have never tried Boston baked beans, I think there is a recipe in the book, maybe something for the weekend.

    My pressure cooker is a real timesaver with the amount of bean cooking I do.

  4. Anonymous2:41 PM

    With all this talk of baked beans, I will have to give up some time I am spending on this boring sweater and make some. Just saw a show on tv about how healthy they are. We have frijoles here on a daily basis and they are good but nothing to compare with baked beans. As always, Jean, you inspire us.
    Ron in Mexico

  5. As far as I can make out, navy beans are the same as haricot beans. In France, haricots is a general term, but in Britain it means the little white ones.

  6. Anonymous3:21 PM

    Mel's comment has given me a scientific explanation for something my grandmother said about cooking beans. "Don't add the salt until the beans are done or they will be tough."
    I frequently don't add salt at all. Like you, Jean, it seems the pork adds enough for me.

  7. Anonymous6:45 PM

    Jean, when I lived in the UK in the 70's, I thought what my mother-in-law called "haricot beans" were close to what I grew up calling navy beans. ("Haricot beans" as a phrase seemed so odd to me as a Canadian - isn't "haricot" the French for "bean"?)
    - Beth

  8. Anonymous12:32 PM

    I treated myself to both the Estonian knitting and the Franklin books and love them both. I don't mind trying nupps, but the thought of sewing the lace edging on,as is traditional in Estonia, makes my heart sink... I like having the history, which I can't translate from Pitsilised Koekirjad. Both of the books are keepers for me.

  9. His book is fantastic, isn't it? My favorite essay is the one about the knitters of the queens underpants. And look on page 111 for my favorite cartoon - although that is akin to trying to name a favorite chocolate - nigh impossible.

  10. thanks for the link and the bean recipe tips ... still putting furniture together and trying to find things while unpacing, but hope to enjoy beans around the New Year LOL (Actually , if you are from the US South, you are supposed to have crown roast of pork, ... more (I forgot) and black eyed peas ...which are really beans of course.
    And isn't internet shopping grand?

    Or even last minute shopping, which will be our method, because .... we can... because we are back in the US LOL But everywhere we go for pesky things related to moving (new brooms, sink strainer, cleaning supplies etc) we see people with serious looks and LISTs.