Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On Baked Beans, Simplicity, Eccentric Entertaining

As far as entertaining goes, sometimes I think people have lost the courage of their convictions. Take this passage from the Tasha Tudor Cookbook, introducing the (rather iconoclastic) recipe for Baked Beans:
These I learned to make from Nell Dorr, the well-known children's photographer. No one, to my mind, has exceeded the art of Nell and her Rolleiflex camera. No posing, no flashes, just pure magic. Nell Dorr gave memorable supper parties in her home, the West Branch, in Westport, Connecticut. I recall the many artists who attended these agreeable gatherings; Robert Lawson was one. It was all delightfully informal, with small tables set about the four small rooms. Nell looked lovely, as she always did, in her long frocks, with Queen Anne's lace in her dark hair. Her famous baked beans and homemade bread were always served, and no other baked beans can compare.

(If you're thinking that you need to buy this cookbook RIGHT NOW you're not wrong.) Dorothy Draper's estimable Entertaining is Fun (which you also need if you don't have it) often advocates a similar approach, suggesting menus of lots of one thing, and no apologies. I remember reading somewhere about some famous hosts who were known for serving only sugared bacon at their cocktail parties and someone else who always offered whiskey and peanuts. As soon as I develop my gimmick, I intend to do likewise. (Although it must be said that the party at which I only served different kinds of deviled eggs was regarded as peculiar.)

I was inspired by this to make baked beans today; I didn't follow Tudor's instructions to "parboil the beans until their skin pops when you blow on them" then simmer until squashable (I soaked and pre-cooked them instead, although I'll admit to a little futile huffing-and-puffing at a bean's skin, just by way of experiment.) They are baking away now, and very savory they smell too on this rather chilly, San Francisco-ish day. No homemade bread, alas, but I do have a key lime pie and (to use up the resulting whites) some chocolate-chip meringues.

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