I got curious. Why baked beans from Boston? What is the connection? As the old saying goes, "Here's to dear old Boston, the land of the bean and the cod. Where the Lowells speak only to Cabots, and the Cabots speak only to God." (Actually it was a toast, given in 1910 at a Holy Cross Alumni reunion.) I get the cod part. But why beans?
Thanks to the Internet, we can all know. The beans came from the Waumpanoag people of Cape Cod, who grew them with squash and corn and passed them on to the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims, being strict Calvinists, kept the Sabbath. That means they did no work, not even cooking. So, the they and their descendants made baked beans on Saturday and baked them Saturday night along with brown bread. When folks got home from church on Sunday, their dinner was still hot in the oven. According to the website celebrateboston.com, the good burghers of Boston ate brown bread and beans on Sunday well into the 1930s.
You wouldn't know it from my family. Although in the 18th century, many of the men in my family were ministers, by the mid 19th century, they seemed a distinctly secular bunch with nary a bean in the kitchen. My great grandfather was a Bostonian and a captain of industry. He was on the board of the Boston Public Library and had a large house on Beacon Hill. In his memoirs, he did discuss going to church. He was a member of the Episcopal Church. His son, my grandfather, was considerably less illustrious, and in fact, when I asked my aunt, his daughter, if he ever worked, she recalled that he was president of his class. Guess where? Clue: It starts with H.
My father never set foot in church except for weddings and funerals. His idea of the Sabbath was a day in which he could take a nap after lunch. In his defense, he worked damn hard during the week. Being a dairy farmer was no picnic.
As for beans, we never ate them. I remember encountering them at a Fourth of July buffet at the local country club and being entranced. Could we have them, I begged my mother. She bought a couple of cans and let me eat them in the kitchen, with my brother, who was too young to eat with the adults.
These baked beans, one recipe among several in the cookbook, are relatively easy to make. Baked Beans I, the recipe which precedes it, requires the beans to be baked for six to eight hours. Another recipe, Beanhole Beans, requires the cook to dig a hole in the backyard and make a fire in it, and then bury the beans with hot rocks. These beans are pretty simple. You are supposed to soak the beans. Usually, I do soak beans, because it cuts down on the cooking time. This time, I wanted to make the beans, and I didn't have them the night before, so I couldn't soak them. But, I just boiled them for a couple of hours, and they softened up just fine.
Baked Beans II
1/2 pound salt pork, cut into squares
1 pound dried white Michigan or pea beans
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup unsulphured molasses
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1 onion, studded with two whole cloves
1. Day before, place the salt pork and beans in a large mixing bowl and add water to cover to the depth of one inch. Let stand overnight.
2. Next day, drain beans and pork and pour into a three-quart saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer, partially covered, one hour.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
4. Discard the onion and pour the beans into an earthenware crock or bean pot. Cover and bake two and one-half hours. Look at the beans occasionally and if they are cooking too fast, reduce the oven heat. They should bubble nicely.
Makes six servings.