I drove through Frenchtown at sunset the other day, toward the western sky and its layers of lavender, salmon and pink. Grandma Annie's house, now owned by a family who lives it and cares for it, was ablaze with lights. My heart lurched and then leaped with pleasure.
We believe the old house has its origins in 1863, the year the lot was parceled out to someone named Deroucher, or perhaps shortly thereafter. Now it is sturdily standing in its third century. The kitchen, always the heart of the house, is filled with spacious cabinets and a frieze of grapevines. It is warm and welcoming. How Grandma Annie would love it!
Annie's second daughter Jane, left at age 20, eloping with a theater usher in those headlong days before World War II. Like her mother, grandmother, aunts and sisters, Jane was an excellent cook and baker who favored simple down-to-earth fare. In later years, she came home to the old house, a widow now. About 18 years ago she died there in the same bed and room our Mémere died in. (I dream of that room often. It is now a sunny, two-story stairwell.)
On cold winter nights, Jane often made a dish with baked beans, ground beef, onions, ketchup, mustard and a dash of brown sugar. I do not know the exact measurements, but I tried the casserole recently, and enjoy it reheated for several nights during a brutal cold snap.
- 2 medium cans of baked beans with onions
- 1/2 pound ground beef, browned
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon mustard
- 1/3 cup ketchup
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
I combined all the ingredients and baked in a preheated, 30-degree oven for about 45 minutes. It's best served with coleslaw and cornbread, but I had only bread sticks on hand that week.
I like these homey dishes when the weather turns brutal, as it has here in Wisconsin.