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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Saturday night

"Plastichrome" postcard P324407 Arts & Cards, 374 Boylston St., Brookline, MA 02146

I decided that Sunday posted blogs are not going very well. So on this Saturday night, I post a food related piece written this week for our writer’s group; besides, I need Sunday to be a day of rest.

Every Saturday night, as long as I can remember, growing up in a north Boston suburb, we sat down to supper with a sense of history, homemade rolls, hot dogs with piccalili and Boston baked beans in a pot. Our mother baked the beans in an ancient glazed crock called a bean pot. It was two toned, brown on top, tan on bottom with a handle and tight fitting lid. Because I preferred the pea beans, small, round and white somewhat like navy, over the kidney beans, she would bake two pots one kidney and one pea or weekly alternate beans. On Friday evening before bedtime she soaked the beans in water overnight. On Saturday morning she parboiled them for an hour or so, draining the beans, according to Fanny Farmer’s original Boston Cooking School Cook Book 1896,”throwing bean-water out of doors, not in sink.” Then she put them in the bean pot with dry mustard, brown sugar, molasses, salt, pepper, salt pork and sometimes an onion, with just enough boiling water to cover. She then placed the lid on top and slow cooked it for 8 hours, adding boiling water as needed. The anticipated Saturday smell transformed the house for one day a week.

One of our ancestors on my mother’s side, Stephen Hopkins, an adventurer pilgrim from the Mayflower, 1620, was the first to become friendly with the Native Americans. .He had been to Jamestown around 1610 and in Plymouth colony he spent time at native camps, Pokanokets, Narragansetts including visiting Massasoit, namesake for Massachusetts. Many natives also stayed in his family house in Plymouth.. I believe it was he who learned from the Narragansetts how to make baked beans using maple syrup and bear fat. Since the Pilgrims strictly followed the commandments of God, to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, no work including cooking could be done on Sunday, just worship and prayers, the meal needed to be prepared the night before and beans were a perfect choice, according to some sources, the start of the Saturday night Baked beans tradition for most of New England.

During colonial times, Massachusetts became part of the triangular trade, Boston to West Indies to West Africa. Originally some Native American slaves from Phillip’s war 1674, were sent to West Indies to work in the sugar cane fields. The byproduct, molasses was sent back to New England to be made into rum. The first distillery in Boston was in 1667. Rum was then sent to West Africa to buy slaves which were sent to West Indies to increase the labor force, production and continue the sequence. It is interesting that we have sponsored an orphan through Rafiki Foundation in Nigeria, West Africa. It is also interesting that our great grandmother whose house we live in and whose bean pots and roll pans we used, lived most of her later life in Barbados, West Indies. I even have a glass rum jug of hers with basketry wound around it. I often wondered about why she would go to the West Indies from Boston area. Perhaps it was the baked bean/molasses/rum connection. By 1783 there were 63 rum distilleries around Boston area. With often a surplus of molasses, the baked beans became a way in every household, a substitute for the maple syrup.

In the 1920’s Friend’s Brothers established a baked bean factory in our town Melrose placing them in cans to sell along with cans of steamed brown bread. Even with the factory in Melrose, my mother still made the beans and rolls from scratch. The piccalilli, green tomato relish, however, was locally made and eaten.

The franks when she could get them, were Maple Leaf a Canadian brand from Nova Scotia, grilled in a black cast iron frying pan. Even though both parents were immigrants from Nova Scotia, my mother especially needed the continual connection in any way she could get it. The rolls were from a recipe passed down from generations on her mother’s side. She began making rolls on Saturday morning as well, putting bowl of covered dough on the hot water radiator under the kitchen window to rise. When puffed she punched them down and when risen again she turned them into light balls of dough, stuffing them in rows into my great grandmother’s metal baking pan, placing them in the oven to bake to a soft light brown.

I can still smell Saturday night’s meal and wonder why I have not continued tradition. But you know, I found the old pot, the recipe, some beans, even salt pork, and am making some today for history’s and Mom's sake. Besides, I too will try not working on Sunday, for the blog and God’s sake.
Exodus 20:8-11


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Angel Bryant said...

Thank you. Come back again.