Real Baked Beans + Medicine Hat

Baked beans 1

We’ve become hooked on short-haul trips to small towns we’ve never explored in our own province. W asked if we could go on another adventure as soon as he finished school, and so we obliged by packing up the car and driving to Medicine Hat on Friday afternoon – as good a place to go as any when the forecast tipped beyond 30 degrees. The temperature in southern Alberta this weekend ranged from about 34-38 – no better time to hunker down in a hotel that has air conditioning and a water slide. (Also: no obligation to cook, do dishes or laundry.) We beat the heat with a visit to Tino’s drive-in (hilariously thin burgers, but people apparently go for the chili fries, and the ice cream was cold) and Swirls Ice Cream (my fave).

Tino's
Swirls

Because I’m a full-on coffee snob, Mike walked across the street to Tim Horton’s while I went in search of a proper cappuccino. The Station Coffee Co in downtown Medicine Hat brews Fratello beans, has some sufficiently dense and sticky cinnamon buns and squares, and is right across the street from one of the prettiest garden centres I’ve been to, with one of the many weathered brick walls you’ll see around town acting as a backdrop. Warning: it’s closed on Sundays. I KNOW. I would have bought two on Saturday and drank the other one cold. See? Coffee snob.

the station
MedHat Garden Centre

Hop across the river (I do love a town that has bridges) and you’ll find Zucchini Blossom Café, a cute little coffee shop in an equally adorable old-school block of awesome little spots – it’s a haven of baked goods, soups, salads, sandwiches and pizza – I took a cold slice of veggie pizza with me, and wound up polishing the whole thing off in the car, along with perfectly tart apple-rhubarb crumble.

zucchini blossom

A couple doors down, Skinny’s Smokehouse serves up hickory smoked pulled pork, ribs, chicken and some of the best brisket I’ve had – with cold Cokes in glass bottles and rolls of paper towel (always a good sign) and Mad magazine on the tabletops.

Skinny's 3
Skinny's 2

You can take home meat by the pound, their own barbecue sauces, or try a porkzilla – pulled pork, bacon and sausage on a soft bun. Everything comes with a side, and we tried all of them – dill-heavy potato salad, chili-spiced baked beans and truly great slaw – a rarity, it seems. And I was hooked on the thinly sliced quick pickles – I finished everyone’s off.

Skinny's 1

Apparently, people go for Thai food when in Medicine Hat. I did not know this. Fortunately, I know people who did, and they tipped us off. The Thai Orchid Room, set in the back of a sleepy new strip mall by the highway with not much around it – is not something we could have stumbled upon, but the curry and pad Thai were some of the best I’ve had. And I learned a new cocktail: gin + pomegranate juice + champagne (or prosecco), which I want to name the Alberta Summer, but I think in order to have that name it should be made with rhubarb.

Thai orchid

(These photos do not give this pad Thai and peanut curry justice. Truly.)

On Sunday morning, after discovering that most of wee downtown Medicine Hat is closed on Sundays, we hopped over to the 1912 Medalta Pottery Factory – a national historic site (!!) in the clay district, joking in the 37 degree heat that some kids get to go to Disneyland, others’ parents drag them to small town pottery museums.

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Medalta kiln
medalta 7

It was fascinating, to all of us – in a century-old factory with a row of enormous beehive kilns out front you could actually go into, it was part working ceramic studio with artists in residence, and part original factory, where in the early 1900s workers made ceramic urns, pots, jugs and dishes that were shipped around the world.

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For centuries, the South Saskatchewan River deposited alluvial silt along its banks, creating rich deposits of clay that was found to have great ceramic and brick making potential. That combined with a formation that kept the area in cheap natural gas meant Medicine Hat was a hub of industrial activity at the time.

medalta 3

medalta 2

Also: they made bean pots. This, as you know, is right up my alley.

soaking beans
medalta bean pot 2

In Canada’s early days, when home cooking was done in a large central fireplace, whomever was charged with feeding everyone would simmer beans in heavy Medalta pots nestled in the coals at the back of the fireplace – behind the breads and pies, where it could stay and simmer for hours. The pots were hardy enough to be passed from generation to generation – and so when we exited the exhibit into the gift shop and they actually had some, I bought one – and it came with their real baked bean recipe tucked inside. I made a pot today, regardless of the fact that it was close to 30 outside. (If you don’t have a bean pot, you could bake these in any heavy baking dish – or do them in the slow cooker on low for 6-8 hours; that way they won’t heat up your house.)

medalta baked beans 1

Real Medalta Baked Beans

2 cups dry navy (little white) beans
1 small onion, finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
3/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 Tbsp. grainy mustard
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a bowl or medium pot, cover the beans with enough water to cover by a couple inches and let soak for 6-8 hours; alternatively, bring the two to a boil, cook for a minute, then remove from heat and let stand for 2 hours. Pour off the excess water. Preheat the oven to 325F.

Put the beans into a medium pot (if they aren’t already), add enough water to cover by a couple inches and bring to a simmer; cook for 30-40 minutes, until tender but still firm to the bite. Drain, reserving the cooking water. Transfer the beans to your bean pot (or a heavy baking dish) and add the onion, garlic, ketchup, brown sugar, molasses, mustard, balsamic, Worcestershire, salt and pepper. Add 2 cups of the leftover cooking water (add regular water to top it up if you need to) and stir to combine.

Bake, uncovered (this is the way I did it – the recipe didn’t specify) for 4-5 hours, or until the beans are tender and the sauce is thick and sticky around the edges. If they seem too dry, add more water.

Serves 8 or so.

This post was sponsored by Travel Alberta – a great partnership, since I love showing off this province so much. As always, all thoughts and words are my own.

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June 30 2015 | beans and eating out | 13 Comments »

Amy’s Sunshine Cherry Jam

Cherry jam
I’m a sucker for jam – making it and eating it – and I always dig for the wee jar of cherry jam on restaurant brunch tables. BC cherries aren’t quite ready yet, but I happened to have a bag of frozen ones in the freezer – already pitted, even – and so tonight in an attempt to kickstart summer I made a small pot. Four jars’ worth – just enough to disgrace myself with buttered toast, and share a few with those I know will do the same.

cherry jam 1

I can hardly keep up with the influx of beautiful new cookbooks these days, but my pal Amy in Victoria has been working on hers for years, and I’ve been particularly looking forward to it – not only because Amy is awesome, but because I have a fondness for books on the subject of preserves.

Also – a fondness for Amy. She’s sweet and lovely and kind and funny, and showed up at my launch for the dog cookbook at the Empress with a box of Roger’s chocolates for me to be alone with in my hotel room. I remember the day she texted to share the news she had been contacted by Penguin! and asked to write a cookbook! and the topic is so fitting – she earned her certificate in home preserving; she knows her stuff but makes it easy – she’s done a fantastic job of covering everything from jams to pickles to chutneys to mustards to barbecue sauces in a book that’s just the right size to prop up in the kitchen as you work. I wish I was her neighbour.

Jam 2

Amy adds the zest and juice of an orange to her cherry jam, which is something I wouldn’t have thought of – I’ve done so with plums, but cherries are in even greater need of a squeeze of acid and are far better for it. The result still tastes brightly of cherries, but is somehow sunshinier, which explains the whole name thing. It couldn’t be simpler: simmer the fruit and pectin, add the sugar, give it a hard boil for a couple minutes and you’re done. If you’re nervous about whether or not your jam will set, this is what I look for: it should be a little wobbly in the pot, the bubbles thicker and slower, almost like liquid Jell-O. It should look like melted jam rather than syrup, if that makes any sense. And if you dip in a spoon and let it cool off a bit, it should wrinkle when you nudge it with your finger.

the canning kitchen

Yay Amy! It’s here! It’s beautiful! And it’s just in time, because everything is growing.

Sunshine Cherry Jam

I made half as much as this recipe calls for – only because I had a pound and a half bag of cherries in my freezer and a half packet of pectin at the bottom of my baking drawer. It comes from The Canning Kitchen, by Amy Bronee.

3 lb. dark sweet cherries, pitted
zest and juice of 1 navel orange
1 pkg. pectin
6 cups sugar

Coarsely chop the cherries (I halved some, quartered some) and put them into a medium-large pot with the orange zest and juice and pectin. Bring to a full boil over high heat, stirring constantly.

Stir in the sugar and bring back to a full, hard boil. Keep it at that full boil for a minute or two, then remove it from the heat. When it settles, spoon off any scum that rises to the surface. Ladle into clean jars (I like them fresh from the dishwasher or a hot water bath) and seal.

Makes 7 – 1 cup jars.

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June 22 2015 | preserves | 10 Comments »

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