Summer Black Skillet

Michigan is a camper's paradise with 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline and over 11,000 inland lakes. Who hasn't felt the urge to abandon our hectic city life and head the family van up north? Whether you're into spotting our elusive kirtland warbler, hunting morels or exploring all of our 96 state parks, this recipe for Summer Black Skillet will hold a major gang for the weekend. It's a fortified, rib-sticking pot of good old beans reminiscent of Blazing Saddles, only better.

The challenge here is making them over an open fire in a huge black campfire skillet or pot without burning them. This is a hunt camp specialty. We put the kettle on early Friday afternoon upon arrival at the campground and by dinner, they're ready. Keep it on the heat or off to the side of the fire for the entire weekend, adding some liquid--either water or beer--on occasion so they don't dry out.

It's great breakfast fare served with a couple of eggs. You can even mix in some of the ashes from the fire with the beans to give it a smoky flavor. All you need to accompany it is bread. Of course, if you are not into camping or your up north paradise is a cottage, this recipe can adapt easily to a huge backyard summer celebration feast. For a Paul Bunyon type crew, you'll need:

5 lbs.              navy beans
3 gallons           water
2 lbs.              diced onions
5 ounces            chopped garlic
1 ounce             Caribbean jerk spice
5 lbs.              smoked diced ham
2 lbs.              ham hocks
4 ea.               diced tomatoes
10 ounces           ham or pork base
1 lb.               brown sugar 

Soak beans over night. Drain and rinse. Add all other ingredients to the pot and let simmer until the beans are soft, then let set on the back of the fire and stew. Serve with hunks of bread and some Michigan sun tea. Kick back and watch one of our great sunsets. It doesn't get any better than this. Now run from the skeeters! Enjoy the summer. And as always, a good cook appreciates nature and what it has to offer.