Maine Baked Beans
Today we share this story in celebration of National Baked Bean Month.
The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a program developed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) to help Americans to overcome the Great Depression of 1928. A WPA administrator interested in food decided to publish a collection called America Eats. Here's the first in a series on Maine food-related traditions that draws on the knowledge found in one of these documents written by the WPA’s Mabel G. Hall, a local Maine historian.
Baked beans are an essential component to any New England-style meal. While Boston is likely the most famous area to find baked beans, each state has a unique way of preparing this signature side dish. In the rural parts of Maine, one will find that many of the local farming families use their own produce to prepare the savory dish and to do so, it takes a lot of time and dedication.
Every Friday night these farming families would handpick the beans and rinse them in water before placing them on the back of the stove to parboil in a covered pot (partially cook) until the next morning. On Saturday morning, the beans are rinsed one last time before adding ingredients. The matriarch of the family, who typically did the cooking, adds molasses, dry mustard, and a little bit of sliced or diced fat salt pork (salt-cured pork cut from the belly and resembles uncut thick slabs of bacon). One then refills the same size cooking pot with water (enough to cover the beans) and leaves it to boil uncovered for about an hour while adding water from time to time. Serve warm as a side dish.
Maine Baked Beans Recipe
½ pound of beans (navy or great northern beans)
1 tablespoon of molasses
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of dry mustard
¼ pound of fat salt pork
Set ½ pound of beans on the back of the stove to parboil for 8-12 hours. Give the beans a final rinse with water then put them in the pot. Add a tablespoon of molasses. Add a teaspoon each of salt and dry mustard. Add nearly a quarter-pound of fat salt pork. Partially submerge the beans and fill the pot with water. Cook the beans over a hot stove for 6 to 8 hours. Add water from time to time.