Saturday, December 6, 2014

1880 - Grandmother's Baked Beans on Ponketasset Hill, Concord, Massachusetts

Baked Beans
George Houghton
BAKED beans! The very name is dear to New Englanders! Baked beans! Those two words of five letters each, with their abrupt alliteration, bring back to me my boyhood!
I see my grandmother's home on Ponketasset Hill in old Concord, which I visited at that receptive age of childhood when one sees details most distinctly—too distinctly to ever lose them; and from the perspective of memory stands forth the picture of the kitchen in that quaint, unpainted farm-house, more vivid and more complete, indeed, than when the actual scene was before me.
I see the low room with beams exposed overhead; the two windows, with many small panes, looking out on the farmyard in the year—a little world in itself— and two others opening toward the road, and giving to the inmates a connection with the great outside world. I see the whitewashed walls; the map of the township; the print depicting the Concord fight; the tall, old-fashioned clock in the corner, whose slow “ ticktock " gave to the flight of time a solemn meaning; the low, flag-bottomed chairs with straight backs, and one rocking-chair with a wooden seat and curved back supported by numerous rounds—a pattern that the artists have now monopolized. This last was grandma's chair. It had a plump and comfortable cushion, and stood in some dignity beside one of the front windows. Who shall dare to compute how many blue stockings were knit in that chair?
But the most striking feature of the room is the great open fireplace, with iron dogs supporting the crackling sticks, and a generous hearth, painted red and kept scrupulously clean by frequent applications of the turkey-wing. Above the fire-place is the plain oak mantlepiece, weighted down with responsibility, being commissioned with the care of all varieties of valuables, from the family Bible, a medical almanac and grandfather’s spectacles, to the candles and snuffers, a squad of flat-irons, and the yellow pitcher of buckwheat batter prepared for the morrow's breakfast. To the right of the hearth stand the tongs and shovel, and to the left (you might not at first observe it, for it is flush with the wall) the brick oven, without whose kindly offices the household economy must have come to a standstill.
This oven was put in use only once a week, Saturday being the “baking day,” but it did its work so faithfully on that occasion that it well deserved a long season of rest. Its capacity was fifteen pies, or a huge pot of beans and half a dozen loaves of rye-and-Indian bread. The method of heating it was as follows: Early Saturday morning the oven was filled with brush-wood, which was kindled and allowed to burn until the bricks became a bright red; the brands were then removed, the ashes carefully swept out with a damp broom, and it was now ready for work. 
The apple and pumpkin pies were usually baked first, this process occupying less than half an hour, when they were brought to view by the aid of a long wooden shovel; the oven was then again heated as before, and the beans and brown bread took their turn. These were always baked at the same time; indeed, they must be considered complements, one to the other; and for some cause, inscrutable, but without doubt anterior to mere custom, when one is absent from the table the other always misses its presence and sellers in consequence. The bread was molded in round loaves, and deposited on the bottom of the oven, without pans. The beans were ready to be eaten at supper time, and the pot was afterward returned to the oven and allowed to remain there over night, the beans retaining sufficient heat to be ready for serving at breakfast next morning, when they proved still more savory.
Then again I remember the basement kitchen of my own home in Cambridgeport, where there was also a brick oven of the same kind, but long unused, for the reason that it had been found cheaper and more convenient to send the beans to the baker’s, and to buy the brown bread ready made. To me, therefore, the suggestiveness of the name “baked beans” is mainly associated with the shop to which I was accustomed to go each Saturday night, during the Fall and winter, carrying the pot of prepared beans, and early on Sunday morning to return for it. 
How vividly I recall Mr. Ball’s shop on Essex Street, the bakers in their white aprons and brown-paper caps, the oven—a great cavern of blackness, the paste-board tickets by which to identify ownership, the chalk-marks on the side of the pot, the little company of fellow towns-folk bound on the same errand, the warmth of the pot and loaf as I placed them in my basket, their appetizing odor; and, above all, I recall with pleasure the walk home, often accompanied by some gossipy school-chum picked up by the way. Never have I enjoyed the outer world more keenly than during those early morning walks, when, in the solemnity of the staid New England Sunday, the city seemed quite other than the Cambridge of week days. 
In the variable climate which characterizes that suburb of Boston the appearance of nature at seven o’clock, A. 1a., was much diversified, and winter especially was accustomed to prepare a succession of surprises. Sometimes it was quite dark when I left home, and I could feel in the chilly air the threat
of a coming storm; sometimes I waded through two feet of snow, and more than once was unable to go at all, owing to the depth of the drifts, and we had to depend upon a make-shift breakfast. Sometimes, during a thaw, the slush was half the height of my rubber boots, and dense mist blotted the city quite out of sight; and then again, after rain followed by sudden cold, that wonderful spectacle of a world glazed with ice, and dazzling beyond description, would blind me with its intensified sunlight. After a brisk walk on such a morning, a breakfast of baked beans and brown bread became something of which the New Yorker, even in the best of restaurants, and from the most delicately served plate of so-called “ pork and beans," can never catch a suggestion. The New Englander has carried the bean-pot to the ends of the world as his armorial device, but alas! the beans themselves will hardly bear transplanting to a less rigorous climate, or please the palate of a less hardy race.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Civil War Song in Praise of the Bean (video)

It is one thing to like a dish, but totally another to write a song in its praise!!!  This is a great Civil War period song performed by the  97th Regimental String Band.  I think you will really enjoy this!

Thank you to "Donna" on for the lyrics.
Both sides ate lots of beans during the Civil War and thereafter. They even sang songs about beans. One song sung by the soldiers during Civil War was "The Army Bean". The words were written by Anonymous or unknown and the tune was to "Sweet Bye and Bye".

"There's a spot that the soldiers all love,
The mess tent's the place that we mean,
And the dish we like best to see there
Is the old-fashioned white army bean.

'Tis the bean that we mean,
And we'll eat as 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.

'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 bean evermore.

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 will stick.

'Tis the bean that we mean,
And we'll eat as we ne've ate before,
The army bean, nice and clean,
We'll stick to our beans evermore."

Song from "Singing Soldiers: A History of the Civil War in Song". by Paul Glass and Louis C. Singer, Da Capo Press, Inc., New York, N.Y. 1964.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

1937 Maryland Beans, Sun Bonnets

It is report card time with the school full of families, and school is ramping up into the pre-holiday tizzy that propels us through the next two weeks.  Book Fairs, Winter Concerts, the Invention Convention,  not to mention children anticipating Santa Claus, have the halls vibrating with anticipation.  Blogging on seeds is just not working!  I think I will take a break and just share photos and odd and ends that have a seedy past of some sort.  The last day or so I have been looking around the Library of Congress.

Loading a truck with string beans, near Cambridge, Maryland is how this photo is described in the 
LOC collection.   Note the woman's sun bonnet. 

 In June 1937 photographer Arthur Rothstein captured this image for the Farm Security Administration.  Eleven photographers canvassed the United States to record rural poverity and the life of farmers.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Dorothea Lange and Beans

In May 1937, Dorothea Lange photographed cultivating beans with a four-row cultivator near Santa Ana, California.  Look down the row...that is a big field.  No iPod either. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

(1810+) Early Seed Catalog Bean Offerings

Names of bean varieties sold in seedsman's catalogs in early years in the United States were very changeable, and it is hard to know if any one variety was offered over many years...or if it was offered, was it really the same bean from decade to decade?   Heritage seed sellers today often quote the provenance of the seed they are growing for sale.  As in the art world, a solid provenance of who grew a bean over the years is respected.

I did learn something of interest this morning reading American Varieties of Garden Beans by William Woodbridge Tracy (1907).  The Vicia faba that was mentioned yesterday was brought to the United States and offered by seedsmen, the problem being it did not do well in our drier climate

 So one of the beans people were comfortable using was not available to them. 

 In 1810, William Booth of Baltimore only had a handful of beans in his catalog.  The Broad Windsor,  according to Tracy, was a vicia faba.  As was the mazagan.

Grant Thorburn in his 1817 "Kalendar" mentioned just seven or eight varieties.  He also offered Scarlet Runner early.  

About 25 years later he was offering over two dozen beans, and had started to categorize them. Refugee appears on both lists, and probably the Red Cranberry, and I count the Scarlet Runner for both since it was around at Thorburn's much earlier.  The others are acquiring variety names.

I really like Refugee's other name Thousand to One!  Refugee is a green snap bean, good for home garden and commercial growing.  The Scarlet Runner bean has remained in constant mention in popular literature and memoirs; it spans the flower garden and vegetable garden old favorites, being grown for porch shade and the pretty flowers.  

While McMahon, of  Philadelphia, by 1833, had the following listed.

The Corn Bean caught my eye.  It is a kidney pole bean, and considered one of best.  Its name changes several times, and by the time we get to the big catalogs at the turn of the 20th century you will probably find it as  Speckled Cut Short, or earlier as Corn Hill.  A description mentions it is a distinctive bean, not really looking like any other, but if you had to find a similar one it would be Lazy Wife!!  (Another of my favorites:-)

As a parting tidbit... beans used as flowers.  I will be coming back to that in some other post.