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Baked Beans and Brown Bread

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gracoman View Drop Down
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    Posted: 15 Sepeptember 2013 at 12:14

Baked beans and brown bread are a part of me.  My entire family hails from the great State of Maine and almost all of them still live there.  Mainers don’t leave the state much, or at all,  because the rest of the world isn’t Maine.  It may as well be another country.  My parents moved to Connecticut before I was born in search of work so that is where I was raised but Summers and holidays were all spent in Maine.  My roots are there.  Baked beans are in my blood.  

As a boy I participated in apple picking, haying, chicken farming, maple taps and syrup boils and Maine Bean Hole Bean suppers.  Dig a pit, build a fire, let it burn to coals, put in the beans, cover them over with hot coals and dirt and come back tomorrow for the finest bean dish in the world.  At least to my way of thinking.

Saturday night bean suppers are a tradition in Maine.  Brown bread has been mostly overshadowed by hotdogs (odd looking neon red dogs found only in Maine as far as I know) but for me brown bread is where its at.  Almost every household has a bean pot and everybody knows bean pots make the best beans if you’re not cooking in a hole.  It’s narrow neck and wide shoulder minimize evaporation and there’s just something about the ceramic or glazed clay that works magic.

A Bit of History
In the beginning, there were beans. Traditional Native American cuisine consisted of corn, beans and squash. These three foods play a vital role in defining modern American cuisine. We find grits, cornbread, and red beans and rice in the South, tortillas and pinto beans in the Southwest, baked beans and succotash in the Northeast, and pumpkin pie across the continent. English settlers in the Northeast brought a culinary tradition with them that was then blended with local foods such as turkey, maple syrup, lobster, clams, cranberries, corn and beans to provide Indian pudding, Boston baked beans and brown bread, clam chowder and boiled lobster.

Maine Native people today still make a traditional bean and corn dish known as hull corn soup. Corn which has been soaked in ashes and water and had the skin removed is added to yellow-eye beans and sometimes bits of meat. Water is added and the mixture is cooked into a hearty soup. In years gone by, Natives also baked beans with maple syrup and bear fat in ceramic pots in the ground. Englanders adapted their own versions of the corn soup (succotash) and the baked beans.

Across New England, and certainly throughout Maine, a tradition of baked bean suppers takes place in community institutions such as churches, granges, and firehouses. The tradition of baked beans for Saturday night supper seems to have originated with the pilgrims, who would cook enough so that they would not have to cook on the Sabbath. The eating of beans extends to Sunday morning as well, and many Mainers speak of eating beans for Sunday morning breakfast. Today, bean suppers are often used as fundraisers. For example, the Caribou Lions Club holds three or four bean-hole bean suppers annually to raise money for their service organization.

While Boston is known as bean-town, only in Maine can you ever really get to know beans. B&M (Burnham and Morrill) baked beans of Portland still bakes beans in huge iron pots in brick ovens before they can them for distribution around the country. The Kennebec Bean Company in North Vassalboro packages a range of Maine-grown beans under the “State of Maine” label and also sells many of them prepared to an old Maine lumber camp formula. They cook varieties of beans only known in Maine. There are other, smaller canning companies who can traditional Maine beans as well.

- From the  University of Maine


History of Bean-hole Beans

Many America foods originated in America and were passed on to early settlers by Native Americans. It is difficult to imagine a meal without Native American foods–corn, potatoes, squash, and beans, of course, but also peanuts, pumpkins, pineapple, tomatoes, cocoa, and avocados. These American foods were adopted and transformed by immigrant communities, who added their own traditions, recipes and ingredients to the melting pot. Regional foods developed using available resources. In New England, clam and fish chowders made with milk and baked beans are as ubiquitous as black-eyed peas and fried chicken in the south.

The bean was an integral part of the Native American diet. Often called the “poor man’s meat” beans are rich in protein, supplying a third of the essential amino acids to the corn, bean and squash trinity. In the northeast, Boston would not be called “Bean-town” if it weren’t for the beans adopted from the Native American custom of cooking beans and maple syrup with bits of venison or fish and corn.

New Englanders replaced the maple syrup with molasses and salt pork replaced other meats, and Boston baked beans became the Saturday night staple for most New Englanders. These might be served with brown bread (a steamed bread made with wheat flour, molasses and sometimes raisins), biscuits or corn bread. Later, hot dogs or frankfurters were added. Beans could cook all day Saturday and be eaten Saturday night, then simply reheated on Sunday so as to allow Sabbath day rest for the cooks. Many Mainers talk about eating beans for Sunday breakfast, or making sandwiches of cold beans on Sunday.

Beans baked in cast iron pots buried in the ground became a lumber camp specialty and remain popular in Maine to this day, particularly for public suppers and other special events. The variety of beans used in bean-hole beans are usually heirloom Colonial types such as Yellow Eye, Jacob’s Cattle and Soldier beans. These are large beans (about 1/2 inch long when dry).


Lumber Camp Menu

Foods high in calories and other fats, like pies and doughnuts, and high in proteins, like meats and beans, were needed to feed the hungry hard-working men in the Maine lumber-woods camps. The food was usually good, the men agreed, and there was plenty of it. “Fresh beef and all kinds of roast beef and potatoes. And beans, always had beans on the table every meal. And they had molasses gingerbread and sugar cake. . . .Always had bowls of applesauce or prunes. . . .Plenty of beef and potatoes and brown gravy. And on Fridays they had fish, cod or haddock. . . .Then they had pea soup and pie—mince pie, apple pie. . . .[Sunday] we always had a big meal–meat, beef, most generally and onions. . . .And clam chowder. They’d have a clam chowder, and probably beans.” [Ernest Kennedy, quoted in "Argyle Boom," Northeast Folklore 17 (1976); 120]

Songs were made about lumber-camp food. Larry Gorman, a Prince Edward Islander who came to Maine to work in the woods and later lived in Brewer, Maine. He made up songs about many things, including the lumber-woods work. One song, “The Good Old State of Maine” has two stanzas about lumber camp food:

Now for the grub, I’ll give it a rub, and that it does deserve,
The cooks become so lazy they’ll allow the men to starve;
For it’s bread and beans, then beans and bread, then bread and beans again,
Of grub we would sometimes have a change in that good old State of Maine
Our meat and fish is poorly cooked, the bread is sour and old;
The beans are dry and musty and doughnuts are hard and old;
To undertake to chew one, that would give your jaws a pain,
for they’re not the kind we used to find in that good old State of Maine.

[Edward D. Ives, Larry Gorman: The Man Who Made The Songs (Fredericton, New Brunswick: Goose Lane Editions, 1964, 1977, 1993), 105 

From University of Maine Folklife Research


The big three for baked beans in Maine are all heirlooms.  Soldier, Yellow Eye and Jacob’s Cattle.  Me? I’m a Jacob’s Cattle guy.  A good friend of mine shipped a case of these beauties last week.  I now have 24 beautiful pounds of these lovelies that should last me for the better part of a year.


Jacob’s Cattle (Phaseolus, Vulgaris)

Common Names

Jacob’s Cattle
Also called Trout bean, Coach Dog bean, Dalmatian bean, and Torellen (German).

Visual Characteristics

These brightly patterned bean seeds are shiny, milky white with splashes of deep maroon-- the pattern resembling the hide of spotted Hereford cattle, and often covering up to 75% of the beans surface.

Growing Characteristics

Jacobs cattle is a bush bean with 50-90 days to harvest
For collecting seeds: Allow pods to dry on plant, and then break open to collect seeds. Once properly cleaned, seeds can be successfully stored

History of Plant

Jacob’s Cattle are heirloom beans dating back to the 1700’s. Their origin is unknown for sure but a few stories exist. One is that Jacob’s Cattle beans arrived in the United States with German settlers who called them Toreiien.1 Another legend is that the Passamaquoddy Indians in Maine originally cultivated the bean, and it is told that New Englander’s named the bean after the story in the Book of Genesis of Jacob’s spotted cattle.


My paternal grandparents owed and worked an apple orchard and small dairy farm until one of the milking machines caught fire and burned the barn down.  Every morning the farm hands would head out at 4:00am for the morning chores then come back to the house for a breakfast of baked jacob’s cattle beans and apple pie.  If times were good the beans had a sizable chunk of salt pork thrown in but mostly they were cooked with just butter.


Maine Baked Beans

2 lbs Jacob’s Cattle, Soldier or Yellow Eye dried beans, picked over, rinsed and soaked overnight

Quarter 1 med onion and place on the bottom of the pot

Drain and add to pot with enough fresh water to cover

Add 2 tsp dried mustard

3 tsp salt

½ cup molasses

½ cup brown or white sugar

1/4 lb or 1 stick butter

Bake 6 hrs at 300 − 325˚F

Keep water over beans to stay moist


My bean pot




Ingredients are in the pot




Beans are done.  If using onion, it always rises to the top.






History of Brown Bread from Wisegeek


Boston brown bread is an unusual bread which gets some of its flavor from molasses, and which has an interesting history that stems directly from the resources available in Colonial New England. Early New Englanders needed a bread with what limited resources they had. Since they had more cornmeal and rye flour than wheat flour, the three were combined, helping them to conserve their precious stores of wheat. In addition, as ovens were not available to all colonists, the bread was cooked by steaming, instead of baking it.


Many settlers in New England cooked their meals in fireplaces, instead of ovens, so they came up with a way to cook bread in the fireplace. The bread was steamed, usually in a container that is cylindrical. Metal or glass molds may have been used, while today Boston brown bread is usually steamed in a coffee can. With ovens and stoves being ubiquitous in modern society, the can or other heatproof container containing the bread dough is usually steamed by being placed in a covered pot which contains boiling water.

After Boston brown bread is steamed, it is generally slid out of the can or mold, retaining the shape of the container, and served while it is still warm. Boston brown bread is now offered pre-made in a can, or occasionally in bakeries. The bread is often served with Boston baked beans, just as it was in the days of the Puritans.

Boston Brown Bread (double batch)

From my 1915 copy of The Boston Cooking-School Fanny Merritt Farmer Cook Book


1 C rye meal                                            3/4 T soda

1 C granulated corn meal                          1 tsp salt

1 C graham flour                                      3/4 C molasses

      2 cups sour milk or 1 3/4 cup sweet milk or water


Mix and sift dry ingredients, add molasses and milk, stir until well mixed, turn into a well buttered mould, and steam three and one-half hours.  The cover should be buttered before being placed on mould, and then tied down with string; otherwise the bread in rising might force off cover.  Mould should never be filled more than two-thirds full.  A melon-mould or one pound baking powder boxes make the most attractive-shaped loaves, but a five-pound lard pail answers the purpose. For steaming, place mould on a trivet in kettle containing boiling water, allowing water to come up half-way around mould, cover closely, and steam, adding as needed, more boiling water.


Graham Flour from Wikipedia


Graham flour is a type of whole wheat flour named after the American Presbyterian minister Rev. Sylvester Graham (1794–1851), an early advocate for dietary reform. Graham despised the discarding of nutrients and bleaching with alum and chlorine involved in making white flour and white bread, and believed that using all of the grain (without adding chemicals) in the milling of flour and baking of bread, was a remedy for the poor health of his fellow Americans during changes in diet brought on by the Industrial Revolution. He was mentioned in a French cookbook of the day, the Larousse Gastronomique.

Production

Rather than simply grinding the whole grain wheat kernel (bran, germ, and endosperm), in roller-milled graham flour the components are ground separately. The endosperm is ground finely, initially creating a fresh unbleached yellowish-white flour. The bran and germ are ground coarsely. The two parts are then recombined, creating a coarse-textured flour that bakes and keeps well (has a good shelf life). Graham flour is used to make graham crackers and pie crusts, among other things.

An alternate story is told by Helen W. Atwater in her work titled Bread and the Principles of Bread Making. She claimed that Graham simply washed the entire grain, then ground it between large millstones. She contrasts that against the process used for "entire-wheat flour", where the grain was washed, then the three coarse outer layers of bran were removed, after which the grain was ground, supposedly keeping the aleurone layer, but discarding the rough cellulose of the outer bran layers.

According to a 2001 study conducted by Prabhasankar & Rao, stone milling created significantly greater heat of 90 °C (194 °F) than that of roller milling at 35 °C (95 °F). Roller mills incrementally crack the grains, separating the various layers, which must later be recombined, and such milling reportedly tends to result in somewhat larger baked loaf volumes.


Brown bread batter in the can




Brown bread steaming




Brown bead cooling in the can




Brown bread is done.  Serve while still warm.




Maine baked beans and brown bread with raisins



Folks it just doesn't get any better than this.  The smell of baking beans throughout the house is wonderful.  Fresh baked beans are unlike anything else on earth.  Tomorrow they will still be good but they will not taste or even look the same.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote MarkR Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15 Sepeptember 2013 at 12:27
Now that is just plain cool!
Thank You!

Now I just gotta order some beans.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Rod Franklin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15 Sepeptember 2013 at 16:26
"In the beginning, there were beans..."Smile
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15 Sepeptember 2013 at 19:56
Completely outstanding, Gman. This is truly a "signature post" for this forum!

Thank you for sharing, and also for the inspiration for a wonderful meal sometime this fall or winter!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Sepeptember 2013 at 00:09
Really great write-up, Gracoman.  Been years since I attended a bean-pot dinner, and you reminded me how much fun they are. 

A note on the beans. Yellow-Eye, which are all but unknown outside of New England, deserve to be more popular. A delicious, meaty bean. 

Soldier's are more well known, but never achieved the national popularity of the Jacob's Cattle. 
This may be because there are so many beans similar to the JCs, such as the Anasazi, that people were already familiar with, and more accepting of, that color and pattern?

Soldier beans are named because the pattern surrounding the eye is said to look like an old-time European soldier (the kind tin soldiers were modeled on). There is also a Southern Soldier bean; the only difference being the color of the image. 

Graham flour is, unfortunately, not that easy to find in much of the country. But some really good brown bread can be made using whole wheat and rye flours. I can post a recipe if anyone is interested. 


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Sepeptember 2013 at 00:24
I thought I had posted a recipe for Boston Brown Bread in the past, but it didn't show up when I did a search. But on a whim  I refined the search parameters, and there it was---part of the multi-part bread making primer I'd written.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gracoman Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Sepeptember 2013 at 08:02
A few additional points on this topic.

Upon re-reading my post I noticed my recipe for Maine Baked Beans includes a step only I use, and I use it only because I am cooking at altitude.  That step is the overnight soak.  Folks I know in Maine never soak their beans first.  It simply is not required.  "Soak the beans? Oh, I don't botha with that."  Cooking beans at altitude is a different animal.  Not only do I need to presoak the beans, I'm cooking them for 10 -12 hours as opposed to the 5-6 required at sea level for to get them where they need to be.  

I do cook them on occasion in a crock pot when I can't be around to monitor the water level but they are not quite the same.  Some of the magic is gone.

Baked beans the next morning

I purposly photographed these beans cold, directly out of the fridge, because they are frequently eaten that way in Maine.  Cold bean and hot bean sandwiches are a norm.

You can see from the photo how they have changed from what they were fresh out of the pot.  The beans and gravy are now a more homogeneous color and the texture has softened a bit which brings us to the subject of texture which I somehow neglected to mention earlier.  

Home beans baked have a firmness, a bite, that is nonexistent in the canned distortions you find on your supermarket shelves.  The brand coming closest to this is B&M.

A note on commercially produced and canned baked beans
Baked beans can be placed into 3 categories.  Home baked, canned and B&M.  B&M, while good, do not approach home baked in texture or taste but they are good enough to be in a category all their own. The brand I like the least is , oddly enough, the brand most favored by  home "bbq experts" and self proclaimed "grill masters" who think of their bbq'd beans as extraordinary.  The dreaded Bush Beaners. One can simply NOT produce a good product by starting out with inferior ingredients.  Truly great bbq beans must be baked "from scratch" starting with a flavorful, textured, dried bean and correct sauce ingredients, not with mushy, sugary, tomatoey Bush abominations LOL

If you want tomatoey beans, bake Fagioli Al Uccelletto (Tuscan Baked Beans) with dried Cannellini beans with sage, olive oil and tomatoes.  But that, my friends, is a different post.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote MarkR Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Sepeptember 2013 at 12:55
Gman, you're holding back on us, How do you really feel about Bush's beans?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gracoman Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Sepeptember 2013 at 10:17
The same thing can be said about a beautiful bowl of slow simmered home made brisket chili made with actual chili's and a bowl of canned Hormel evil chili nonsense which is not fit for man nor beast LOL
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote MarkR Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Sepeptember 2013 at 11:21
Originally posted by gracoman gracoman wrote:

The same thing can be said about a beautiful bowl of slow simmered home made brisket chili made with actual chili's and a bowl of canned Hormel evil chili nonsense which is not fit for man nor beast LOL


Bush's Beans....maybe if I don't have a choice. Canned chile, no no no - not gonna happen! Yuck!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote africanmeat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Sepeptember 2013 at 11:43
Originally posted by MarkR MarkR wrote:

Now that is just plain cool!
Thank You!

Now I just gotta order some beans.

i will echo Mark worlds 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Boilermaker Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Sepeptember 2013 at 14:46
Gracoman,

Outstanding post.  I am going to give your recipe  try.  I have a wonderful bean pot that we bought from a potter in Seagrove, North Carolina many years ago that will be perfect for the beans.  We cannot get Jacob’s Cattle, Soldier or Yellow Eye dried beans here in the South.  Can you suggest a substitute from among the more commonly available beans that will work?

Many thanks,
Andy
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gracoman Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Sepeptember 2013 at 15:28
Jacob's Cattle, Soldier and Yellow Eye can all be ordered online but common beans that will work include dried Navy, Pea or even Cranberry beans.

No need to soak at sea level.  Just rinse them off and pick them over looking for small stones, bad beans or whatever else may have found their way into the bag.

Cut the recipe in half if you like and use 1 lb of beans instead of 2.  It really depends upon the size of your bean pot.  Make sure your bean pot is functional and not decorative. Check the inside of the pot for glaze.
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