Maine's Bean Hole Supper

If you're ever in Cushing, Maine, and you're looking for some fast food, be prepared for a long drive. The nearest fast food is miles away, both geographically and culturally.

But for those looking for some slow food in a little village on the banks of the St. George River, CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Tim Sample found just the place.



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To prepare a Saturday night supper at the Broadcove Church in Cushing, Maine, work begins early Friday morning. Jeannette Chapman and Lorraine Jones start in the kitchen at 8 a.m., stirring and chopping, and measuring.

"The original recipe said two pounds of salt pork; we've cut that down a bit," says Chapman.

They are preparing the ingredients for their famous bean hole supper. Chapman has been at it for 24 years. Jones takes orders from her having a mere 20 years under her belt. And what does the supper consist of?

"Beans, that's it," Chapman says. "Beans. And hot dogs and coleslaw. And pies,...lovely pies."

With nearly 50 years of experience between them, Chapman and Jones know a thing or two about beans, and they'll share their secrets if you happen by.

"You just take a few beans out, blow on them; if the skins peel back, they're ready," Chapman says.

"I write down all the details,Â…what's been done, and who's done it. It's in my notebook, and I tell 'em if I drop dead, just look at the book...and they'll know exactly what to do, Chapman says. "And if they don't do it, I'll haunt them!"

Like Fred and Ginger, Chapman and Lorraine know the steps so well, they hardly need to talk to each other as they work.

"Each pot has a full three cups of molasses, three cups of brown sugar, three tablespoons each, salt, pepper and dry mustard," Chapman says.

There is no time for idle chitchat. They're under a deadline.

"We have to finish by 4:45...when the hole is ready," says Chapman.

Outside the church, the men have been hard at work since early morning, too, building the hottest fires they can.

Joe Yemello is originally from Massachusetts, but for the past six years, he's volunteered as a fireman at the bean holes. Believe it or not, it takes a lot of people to make a bean hole fire. They have six shifts of two people, working two hours each.

And just what is a bean hole, you might ask? Walter Chapman has the answer; he created these bean holes 24 years ago.

"I did help dig the holes 24 years ago, and they're the same holes we have today....They were dug about 30 inches deep and rocked around the sides," he says. "We found some rocks on that stone wall back there."

And if the women in the kitchen have their time-honored secets, the firemen certainly have theirs.

"We start the fire with soft wood,...then we'll bring it up a little,...keep on pouring the hardwood on top of it,Â…oak...and maple," Yemello explains.

"It's about 3 o'clock now, so we let this burn down," says Yemello. "Then at 4 o'clockÂ…, we'll give it to her.Â…We'll load her up and let that coast till 5Â….And thenÂ…we'll put the beans in."

On the sidelines, the spectators gather, observing the flurry of activity inside and out. And at precisely 5 o'clock, the firemen come into the kitchen to wire up the pots. The bean hole pots, like everything else, have been used and reused over the years. Only the wire coat hangers are new.

Once the beans have been safely lowered into the bean hole, and the hole covered up, there's nothing to do for the next 24 hours but wait and pray. Luckily, the minister is on hand for the praying part.

"You can't do anything;...you can't even look at them. Can't add water. Anything," Chapman explains.

In the meantime, there are tables to be set, and pies to be cut. A steady parade of pies arrives at the church on Saturday, all baked by neighbors and friends.

"You never know what you're going to get, but people try to have their own special pie they make. One of the ladies makes chocolate butter.Â…This is another oneÂ…chocolate pecan," says Chapman.

And then on Saturday night, precisely at 5 o'clock, the moment of truth arrives. The excitement and anticipation grows, like the opening of King Tut's tomb or even Al Capone's vault.

Under Chapman's ever watchful eye, the wires are cut, and the beans are unveiled. The verdict?

"The color is good....We can serve them," Chapman declares.

After that, there's only one more ingredient necessary to make the bean hole supper a success, and that's the people of the Cushing community. They come to enjoy the slightly smoky taste of real bean hole cooking, a few laughs and some pleasant company.

Once you've fired up the beans, and shared a leisurely Saturday night with your friends and neighbors, you may find yourself wondering what you were in such an all-fired hurry to rush off to in the first place.

And that, slowly simmered down to its essence, is pretty much the whole point of the thing.
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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