|The real McCoy bean pot|
Upon arrival in Plymouth in the fall of 1620, Pilgrims scrambled to learn essential New World survival skills before winter set in. The blessing of baked beans came from the Wampanoag native tribe whose traditional slow-cooking method involved burying a pot in the ground with hot coals for a day or two. The original recipe called for maple syrup and bear fat, ingredients that evolved into molasses and pork rind once the new immigrants had settled in. Baked beans were economical, highly nutritious and complied with the rules of religious correctness. Puritans were not permitted to cook on Sunday, but a hot meal could be enjoyed after the church service if beans were prepared on Saturday and allowed to sit overnight in a brick oven.
We stocked up on batteries, bottled water, matches, candles and chocolate bars. (Robert survived Holland's hunger winter of 1944 with a stash of chocolate that his parents had hidden away prior to the war.) On Monday, while the beans were simmering in the oven, I collected dry kindling from the back woods. The wind howled hard all night, but fortunately the power did not go out, the basement did not flood, and the roof remained intact. Tuesday's lunch was a tribute to Pilgrim practicality, a down-to-earth pairing of baked beans and cornbread accompanied by a prayer of thanksgiving.
Being prepared is part of the 21st century New World order, as climate change breeds more intense and more frequent killer storms. It's back-to-basics here in NB, where we're rediscovering the native goodness of beans and corn.
If you want to try baking beans the traditional way, using a fire pit in lieu of a stove, here are the directions.