Monday, September 06, 2010

In Praise of Baked Beans.

A couple of random bits of trivia surfaced during my brief foray into the history of baked beans last week, and they are far too much fun not to share with you. The first is from a homesick ‘Yankee’ whose ode to his favourite dish was published in about 1829 in a number of farming journals, most of which quote the Baltimore Weekly Messenger as the source.

Baked Beans.

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 pudding the visage of hunger serenes
And, what is far better, the pot of baked Beans.

Let Maryland boast of her dainties profuse,
Her large water-melons and cantelopes fine,
Her turtles and oysters and terrapin stews,
And soft crabs high zested with brandy and wine;
Ah! neither my heart from my native land weans,
Where smokes on the table the pot of baked Beans.

The pot of bak’d beans! With what pleasure I view it
Well season’, well pork’d by some rosy-faced dame,
And when from the glowing hot oven she drew it,
Well crisp’d and well brown’d to the table it came.
O give me my country, the land of my teens,
Of the plump Indian pudding and pot of baked Beans.

The pot of bak’d beans! Ah! the muse is too frail,
Its taste to descant or 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.
                                                  Signed: A Yankee.

The second amusing story concerns the myth of the Sabbath beans – I think we are all agreed that it is a myth? Several nineteenth century magazines repeat the following nice piece of supporting ‘evidence’:

Baked beans were always the only fashionable meal for Sabbath noon in Massachusetts. A minister who is a very correct mathematician, and a bit of a wag withal, has computed that he preached regularly every Sabbath afternoon to fifty-five bushels and three pecks of baked beans, while their owners were asleep.”

As for the recipe for the day, I was going to give you the earliest one I have found so far for simple ‘baked beans,’ as distinct from Boston baked beans. The earliest I have come across so far was from a magazine article in 1833, but it was virtually identical to the Boston baked beans recipe given on Friday. This may or may not be evidence that Boston baked beans are the real thing, and I leave you to consider this.

Instead, I give you the first cookery book version. It is from the prolific Lydia Maria Child’s The American Frugal Housewife (1835), and appears under the heading ‘Beans and Peas.’ Mrs Child does not used molasses or any other sweetener in her baked beans, but does advocate the addition of pepper for health reasons.

Baked beans are a very simple dish, yet few cook them well. They should be put in cold water, and hung over the fire, the night before they are baked. In the morning, they should be put in a colander, and rinsed two or three times; then again placed in a kettle, with the pork you intend to bake, covered with water, and kept scalding hot an hour or more. A pound of pork is quite enough for a quart of beans, and that is a large dinner for a common family. The rind of the port should be slashed. Pieces of pork alternately fat and lean are most suitable; the cheeks are the best. A little pepper sprinkled among the beans, when they are placed in the bean-pot, will render them less unhealthy. They should be just covered with water, when put into the oven; and the pork should be sunk a little below the surface of the beans. Bake three or four hours.

Quotation for the Day.

I like refried beans. That's why I wanna try fried beans, because maybe they're just as good and we're just wasting time. You don't have to fry them again after all.
Mitch Hedberg.


Sharlene T. said...

Thanks for the recipe... I used to make the beans, years ago, but love this original recipe... perfect for a great fall meal, along with some pumpkin soup! Have a great Labor Day...

Shay said...

There's a spot that the soldiers all love
The mess tent's the place that we mean,
And the dish that we like best to see
Is the old-fashioned white army bean.
'Tis the bean that we mean
And we'll eat as we ne'er ate before;
The army bean, nice and clean
We'll stick to our beans evermore.

Now the bean in its primitive state
Is a plant we have all often met;
And when cooked in the old army style,
It has charms we can never forget.

The German is fond of sauerkraut
The potato is loved by the Mick;
But the soldiers have long since found out
That through life to our beans we should stick.

From the American Civil War, and sung to the tune of "The Sweet Bye and Bye."

The Old Foodie said...

Love it, Shay. maybe we will end up with a collection of bean songs!

Lapinbizarre said...

James Beard's recipe for Boston Baked Beans is a good, reliable, no-unnecessary-frills recipe. Molasses are very similar to treacle, tho' distinctly less bitter. A little more dark brown sugar might be in order if using treacle.

Another Beard recipe - very traditional and very "green" - involves burying the pot of prepared, boiling-point beans in earth for six to twelve hours.