Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Letter from Maine's Beantown

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Letter from Maine's Beantown

Article excerpt

INTERESTING (to me) that M. Larousse, the accepted world authority on la bonne chere, says nothing in his exhaustive compendium about the lowly baked bean as encouraged here in Maine. He dwells ecstatically on many ways to prepare the "American white bean" but I gather he doesn't know what a bean pot is - also he likes the word haricot whereas our French-speaking patrons of our traditional Saturday Night Special like the word feve.

It was not Boston, as erroneously ascribed, that gave us the baked bean, but the French settlers of Ste. Croix Island, here in Maine, who learned from the Indians how to bake on hot rocks, and had a good crop of beans for drying in 1605. Since that time, baked beans have been des feves, and if you want to buy a bean pot in French Canada, ask for un pot pour des feves.

Basically, the recipe soaks dry beans overnight, and then in an earthenware pot all day - but there are umpty-ump variations as to condiments. The spurious contention that baked beans originated in Boston persists in spite of the facts.

Puritan Bostonians refrained from cooking on the Lord's Day, and cold baked beans left over from Saturday night nourished them on the Sabbath while they went hunting witches. History, however, indicates that the French settlers on Ste. Croix Island did not eat thus by conscience, but had beans three times a day during 1605, 1606, and 1607.

This regularity persisted when the Maine timberlands were first subjected to the ax, and lumber camps were built. Processing and refrigeration hadn't been refined, and a supply of baking beans would keep for years. The crockery pot common in Maine kitchens became a distinctively styled cauldron of cast iron, holding enough for a considerable crew and capable of baking in an oven or in a bean hole.

When winter relented around the edges and the men made ready to "drive" the harvest to mill on the spring freshet, Cook would send his cookees and his bull cook downstream to keep ahead of the moving crew. The bull cook, who did everything except cook, would prepare bean holes. The round stones he selected from the riverbank to line the holes would be hot from a fire, and upon arriving Cook would lower in his iron bean pot, cover it with dirt, and allow the residual heat to work overnight. …

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