You may know from an earlier blog post that I'm taking a food writing course. I'm also learning a little about American food history. When my text book, American Food, mentioned Fannie Farmer's The Boston School of Cooking Cookbook, I got excited thinking I had one! I ran over to the fireplace in the kitchen. There it was on the mantle. A prop. A member of a vignette of vintage books. Holding the book, I realized I had been brushing dust off its cover for a few years oblivious to its historical role in New England cooking. When I opened it, I saw it was originally written in 1896 and this is the 1938 edition! How fun, I thought, to now try a few recipes.
Since we just covered Yankee foods, and my first assignment was a memoir about foods growing up, I chose to make Fannie Farmer's Boston baked beans for my family. I'm not from Boston but I grew up not far away in Woonsocket and remember having Petites baked beans on Saturdays. I remember going to Petites with my dad. There were always long lines and the beans were ladled into stoneware crocks. We would return to Petites often with a cleaned crock, ready for more beans.
Staying with the historical theme, I thought it would be nice to cook beans in a vintage crock I have but was unsure about its safety so I used a cast iron pot instead. First, I had to soak navy pea beans overnight.
In the morning, I boiled the soaked beans. The recipe says,
". . . cook until skins will burst, - which is best determined by taking a few beans on the tip of a spoon and blowing on them, when skins will burst if sufficiently cooked."
Okay, what does that mean? Will it take 15 minutes? 30 minutes? An hour? I looked it up on the internet where a recipe said cook for 1 to 2 hours. Still, not precise timing. After cooking for about 1 1/2 hours (oops, forgot to set the timer for 1 hour) I tried the technique Fannie suggests and the beans kept flying off the spoon when I blew on them, which made our mini French poodle, Sammy, very happy. I was amused at first but gave up after a few tries.
Next I scalded the salt pork. Then I scraped. Again, not really being sure what this meant. Then I trimmed and added the salt pork to the beans.
After 6 hours, the beans looked and smelled amazing!
Boston Baked Beans
1 qt pea beans (navy pea beans)
3/4 lb fat salt pork
1 tbsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp to 1 cup molasses, according to taste
1/2 tsp mustard, if desired
"Pick over beans, cover with cold water, and soak overnight. Drain, cover with fresh water, heat slowly (keeping water below boiling point), and cook until skins will burst, - which is best determined by taking a few beans on the tip of a spoon and blowing on them, when skins will burst if sufficiently cooked. Drain beans. Scald pork and scrape, remove 1/4 inch slice, and put in bottom of bean pot. Cut through rind of remaining pork every half-inch, making cuts 1 inch deep. Put beans in pot and bury pork in beans, leaving rind exposed. Mix salt, molasses, and sugar, add 1 cup boiling water and pour over beans; then add enough more boiling water to cover beans. Cover bean pot and bake 6 to 8 hours in slow oven (250 degrees F), uncovering the last hour of cooking, that rind may become brown and crisp. Add water as needed. If pork mixed with lean is preferred, use less salt."
Golden Corn Cake
3/4 cup corn meal
1 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 egg, well beaten
2 tbsp shortening, melted (I used butter)
"Mix and sift dry ingredients; add milk, egg, and shortening; bake in shallow buttered pan 20 minutes in hot oven (425 degrees F). For shortening, butter, chicken fat, or beef drippings may be used."
I don't have a recipe but this is what I did. I bought a small ham from Whole Foods. I added about an inch of apple cider to the pan and covered with aluminum foil. Cooked until heated through. When done, I put the remaining apple cider in a small saute pan (a little more than a cup), added about 1/4 teaspoon molasses (not too much as it has a strong flavor), about 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard, and reduced to about half. I poured the broth over slices of served ham.
After all the effort, I was glad we all liked it! My favorite quote comes from my son. When he first tasted it he said, "What's it made with? Love? If it's made with love, love tastes weird." But, once he got used to the flavor he really liked the beans too.
New copies of Fannie Merritt Farmer's Boston School of Cooking Cookbook can be found here.