Thursday, June 29, 2006
Baked Beans: Originated by Indians, Not Bostonians
By ROGER M. GRACE
One of my favorite canned foods is baked beans.
Well, of course, baked beans don’t necessarily have to come from a can. My wife, Jo-Ann, and I have, on occasion, made our own from scratch—but given the need to soak the beans for hours, wash them, and slow-cook them with accompaniments, it’s a heck of a lot easier just to open and heat a can.
And frankly, homemade beans are not all that much better than some brands of canned beans.
In the 1950s and ’60s, and perhaps into the ’70s, the best brand, to my palate, was S&W. But that brand has been seldom seen, at least in this region, in recent years (though it might rebound in light of its 2001 purchase by Del Monte).
In 1994, Bush’s brand became available nationwide, and its various varieties are (honest, I don’t own stock in the company) unmatched in quality.
Baked beans are the perfect concomitant to frankfurters, Polish sausage or smoked pork chops.
How did I wander onto the subject of baked beans? It was, in fact, a result of wandering—in Southern Colorado.
Last week, Jo-Ann and I were there to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. We had a 6:30 p.m. reservation at a restaurant in a scenic area in the hills. But when we got there, we encountered locked doors. The sign in the window advised that the establishment was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and it happened to be a Monday. (Yes, they took a reservation for a day when they weren’t open. The person at the reservations desk was probably a former employee of the Los Angeles Superior Court Clerk’s Office.)
Well, we continued forth on a meandering country road in a sparsely populated area, entering and quickly departing one restaurant along the way after viewing the menu, determining that chicken-in-the-basket was not quite appropriate for an anniversary dinner. About 8:30 p.m., we wound up at a steakhouse in Trinidad, Colorado where, to our delight, the beef rivaled that of the Pacific Dining Car here, and the price didn’t. And from a photocopied, folded-over 8½x11 sheet on the table, I learned of the fascinating origin of baked beans (a specialty of the house):
“Baked beans have been popular in North America since before the Pilgrims landed on the eastern shores. Although many people think of Boston as the birthplace of the recipe, according to the National Restaurant Association, the Narragansett, Penobscot, and Iroquois Indians created the first baked bean recipes. The Iroquois discovered the critical ingredient, maple syrup.”
The baked bean primer went on to recite that the Pilgrims came along and adopted the dish, using molasses and pork fat in the place of maple syrup and bear fat contained in the Native American recipe.
“This dish was perfect for the Pilgrim household,” according to the Black Jack restaurant’s fact sheet, “because Pilgrim women were not allowed to cook on Sunday, because of their religious beliefs. The baked beans could be cooked the night before and kept warm until the next morning.”
“During colonial days, Boston became the place that was famous for baked beans, hence the Boston Baked Beans that we’ve all heard of, and the reason that Boston received the nickname of ‘Beantown.’
“Today, there isn’t a single company in Boston that makes baked beans, and only a few places in the city still serve them.”
I’ll get back to baked beans next week. But before signing off, here’s postscript on Trinidad.
As we were driving off, we spotted a bookstore that was open, well past 9 p.m. We turned around, parked, and went in. It did seem odd that a store in a small town would be open at that hour, and odder yet that there was no one inside.
We encountered one of the most impressive collections we’ve ever seen of books on newspapers and journalism. As Jo-Ann and I were looking through these used books, the proprietor, after several minutes, came in through the back door. We exchanged pleasantries and he went and sat on a chair on the sidewalk in front of the shop.
The books were quite reasonably priced and we selected several of them—books on journalism, cookbooks, and mysteries. The proprietor said he customarily stays open late in the summer, alternating between working in the shop and sitting out front.
One of the books we bought was the American Newspaper Annual and Directory published in 1928. It lists the “Veteran-Enterprise,” founded in 1901…now known as the Metropolitan News-Enterprise. We already knew that the publisher then was Susie P. Miller, but learned that the paper was classified in 1928 as “Republican” and was issued every Saturday.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company
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