I used my dark brown and tan earthenware pot. It’s full of rich dark brown Marifax beans, bubbling gently. The top of the beans glisten lightly with fat freed from the salt pork and the pork itself, pulled to the surface, is browned here and there. The beans smell savory when I spoon them out, and spread across the plate in perfectly thickened gravy. Barely sweet with the maple syrup I added in place of molasses, deeply earthy and beany, the first forkful culminates of my longstanding desire to grow and bake an all-island produced pot of beans.

To do this we needed sufficient garden space to grow beans for drying, our own salt pork, and island-produced maple syrup. It is, I suppose, a form of extreme from-scratch-cooking, a small act of local and sustainable agriculture, and something people did all the time a hundred years ago and didn’t think was a big deal at all.

Consider the lead time: late winter with leafless maples full of rising sap for maple syrup; soil warm as your cheek, warm enough on June 14, 2010, to plant beans. The brown and black pigs arrived then, too, still young and scampery. A lot happened in the ten months I waited for my pot of beans.

Baked beans are practically a Mainer’s birthright. Maine likes larger beans than the rest of New England, and the Marifax we grew is actually smaller than the sorts Mainers prefer like Jacobs Cattle, Soldier, Yellow Eye, and others that are closer to kidney bean size. Still the Marifax is bigger than dainty little, or depending on your point of view, puny little, pea beans of Boston. Generally speaking, the Marifax, or Marfax, is associated with Down East Maine, though Midcoast dwellers found them in chain stores as recently as twenty years ago. Evenly colored, the Marifax’s golden tan would make a nice Martha Stewart paint color for a calm and peaceful room.

When you come up our driveway from the road, next the house attached to the barn a stone’s throw from the backdoor you’ll see the two thousand square foot garden that produced most of our vegetables, including potatoes, onions, and squash for winter keeping. If you keep going past the barn you’ll see the New Garden, newly dug, graded, enriched, rocks removed, raked, fenced, beaten it into submission in spring of 2010. That’s where we planted the drying beans. Though I suspected for years that we could have erected a pole or two for drying beans, we did not, and row feet for drying beans was a luxury we did not afford ourselves. The New Garden added sixty-five hundred square feet, and there was, in my opinion, room for beans or else.

We planted two rows of beans down twenty feet of one bed, using about six ounces of seed beans. The plants thrived in last summer’s spectacularly good growing weather, sported deep green leaves on fine erect plants, bloomed and set pods generously. When in the fall, the pods had turned beige, and most of the leaves browned and withered away, I pulled the plants, and stripped pods off to dry on a paint spattered drop cloth. During November’s relative quiet, we shelled out the beans at the enamel topped kitchen table, and discovered that forty feet of garden had turned six ounces of beans into five and a half pounds.

I was thrilled. Transported. I saw before me not just one pot of baked beans but close to eight or so, given how many I customarily use in my favorite bean pot.

Two pigs who were still wearing the pork for my beans, however, were yet to meet their Maker so I could not immediately bake a pot full. I waited on the salt pork until late January.

Historically, beans were a good deal less sweet than they are in these degenerate times. In the early 1800s, two large spoonfuls of molasses to two quarts of dried beans was the usual. Envision it: a half-gallon milk carton filled with dried beans. Soak them, go find a large serving spoon and fill it twice with molasses and add them to the beans. See what I mean about not very sweet? By the early 1900s, though there were two camps of bean eaters in Maine: people who liked their beans sweet and some others who clung to the old, unsweetened ways.

Ralph Gray who grew up on Islesboro in the early twentieth century met sweet beans at a friend’s house. His friend’s mom bought factory sweetened canned beans. He told me, “Oh, we loved those sweet beans. We pestered our mother to get those beans.” Ralph’s mom, who probably learned her bean making from her mother, had been spared the molasses deluge that hit baked beans in the later 1800s elsewhere in Maine and New England.

So for this pot of beans, I dumped in a half cup of the darkest and thickest maple syrup we had, to two cups of dried beans soaked overnight. A chunk of streaky pork, an onion we grew-Varsity, by name, and a bit of salt and mustard-that’s all.

We shared the beans at supper accompanied by boiled ham, also from you-know-who. Just to show off even more, we also had a salad of greens grown in our unheated greenhouse still surrounded by snow.

How are we going to top that? Well, really, baked beans ought to be accompanied by brown bread and for that I need at least corn meal and wheat flour, preferably rye meal, too, plus milk. The corn for a half cup of meal won’t be so very hard to grow, and I could dedicate enough space to wheat for one brown bread. In the barn, the planer, table saw, and a winter’s worth of firewood occupy a cow’s potential home, and lousy grass grows outside. Solving the milk problem might take another twenty years.

Sandy Oliver is a food historian and food writer who lives and grows food sustainably on Islesboro.