Thursday, July 6, 2006
Baked Beans: Exalted by New Englanders in 1800s
By ROGER M. GRACE
“What...can be more savory than our New England Sunday dish of baked beans?”
That question was posed rhetorically in an Feb. 17, 1858 article in an Ohio newspaper reprinted from the New England Farmer. It continued:
“Blessed be the man or woman who invented baked beans! He whose countenance does not brain with joy at the mention of that dish, ‘doesn’t know beans’ — at least such beans as we know.”
While consumption of baked beans was hardly confined then to New England, denizens of that region particularly prized the dish. It was consumed there by the Pilgrims, said to have been copied by them from a food of the native Americans.
An article in the New York Times in 1985 explained why baked beans were commonly consumed on Sundays:
“The Puritan Sabbath lasted from sundown on Saturday until sundown on Sunday, and baked beans provided the Puritans with a dish that was easy to sustain over the Sabbath. The bean pot could be kept over a slow heat in the fireplace to serve beans at Saturday supper and Sunday breakfast.”
A 2004 book, “America’s Founding Food: The Story of New England Cooking” by Keith W.F. Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald, observed that “[b]y 1842, baked beans were included in the array of dishes invested with symbolic glamour” for New England.
Here’s part of an ode to baked beans “By a Yankee” appearing in the Huron (Ohio) Reflector on Jan. 26, 1841 (and in other newspapers on various dates):
“Oh! how my heart sighs for my own native land,
“Where potatoes and squashes and cucumbers grow,
“Where cheer and good welcome are always at hand,
“And custards and pumpkin pies smoke in a row;
“Where the pudding the visages of hunger oft screens,
“And what is far dearer—a pot of BAKED BEANS.
“The pot of baked beans! ah the muse is too frail,
“Its taste to discant on—its virtues to tell;
“But look at the sons of New England so hale,
“And her daughters so rosy—’twill teach thee full well.
“Like me it will teach thee to sigh for the means,
“Of health and of rapture—the pot of BAKED BEANS.”
A yarn spun in the Berkshire County (Mass.) Eagle on Jan. 8, 1858 was that of a young man smitten with a lass. He was shown into the parlor of her home one day and found her asleep on the sofa. He proceeded to pose a query to her he would not be so bold as to speak were she awake: “My dearest Betsy, tell me, oh, tell me the object of your fondest affections.” Her response: “I love Heaven, my country and baked beans.” (But her greatest passion was for roasted onions.)
The Citizen, a newspaper in Smethport, Pennsylvania, reported on Dec. 24, 1859:
“A chap arrested at Boston, for stealing Pork, made the following defence: ‘From my youth upwards I have loved baked beans, I have a passion, for that substantial dish that baffles all description. Without beans I am miserable. With beans I am happy. Beans! I want for breakfast—beans I want for dinner, a cold beans for supper. A few days since my pork barrel was empty. What was I to do? I bad plenty of beans, but not a pound of pork. I was in despair, and knew not what to do. If I missed my pork and beans I should die...”
While in “this frame of mind,” the defendant declared, he spotted the pork and pilfered it, explaining that if he had not been apprehended, “I should have bad pork enough for my beans for six months.”
An article appearing on Feb. 24, 1854, in the Daily Argus and Democrat, in Madison, Wisc., described a typical kitchen in a New England farmhouse:
“At one end of the table stands a pot of ample dimensions, smoking from the great oven, flanking the fireplace, of the most excellent of New England cookeries, ‘A dish of baked beans,’ crowned with a great square piece of salt, fat pork, crisped and rich.”
The term “Boston baked beans” came to signify beans slow-cooked in molasses, generally also salt pork. However, an 1877 book, “Practical Cooking and Dinner Giving” by Mary Newton Foote Henderson, gave the recipe with pickled pork.
The recipe in Fannie Farmer’s “Boston Cooking-School Cookbook (1896) included both salt pork and molasses, and the notation that “[m]any feel sure that by adding with seasonings one half table-spoon mustard, the beans are more easily digested.” Farmer added:
“The fine reputation which Boston Baked Beans have gained, has been attributed to the earthen bean pot with small top and bulging sides in which they are supposed to be cooked.”
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company
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