Although baked beans may be synonymous with Boston, Americans from coast to coast can call them their own as beans baked in sauce is one of our original native dishes. The tradition of making baked beans began with the Native Americans who grew beans along with squash and corn as part of the “Three Sisters” that tribes used to supplement their diets. After the discovery of America, local beans were exported to countries like England and Italy where regional variations on the baked bean recipes of the Native Americans evolved into the local versions still made today.
The first baked beans are attributed to the Narragansett, Penobscot, and Iroquois tribes that lived in the Northeast and used maple syrup to flavor the dish. The original settlers were quick to adopt the native practice of cooking beans this way and as settlers moved from New England across the colonies and territories, the practice of using beans cooked in sauce went with them.
The world -famous Boston Baked Beans are derived from this original Native American recipe. At some point during the colonial years, Bostonians began to substitute molasses for the maple syrup as it was more plentiful as a result of the sugar cane trade with the Caribbean. Several other regional baked bean recipe variations exist, most notably the addition of yellow mustard in the South which creates a tangier flavor. Despite the regional variations in seasoning, the original method of using covered bean pots and cooking them for 6 to 8 hours before serving continues today.
Beans were one of the original convenience foods offered in tin cans for food preservation and easy portability. Soldiers in the U.S. Army during the Civil War had canned pork and beans available as portable rations that did not require cooking in order to be edible. However, canning baked beans proved more difficult than cooked beans as manufacturers had difficulty finding a feasible way to replicate the lengthy baking process. The B&M Company, who still makes canned baked beans today, was among the first to perfect this process and began to offer baked beans in a can in 1927.
Today, baked beans are often associated with hot dogs, hamburgers, and cookouts, but don’t be fooled into thinking that this is the only place they fit in your summer recipe schedule. Baked beans go great with lots of other things. Meats like chicken, pork, beef, and bison all pair nicely and the high protein content of beans make them perfect for the vegetarian palette. Beans are also high in nutritional value and low in cost which makes it easier to stretch your food dollar and get more variety into your family’s daily diet. To find Arizona farmers who grow beans, go to FillYourPlate.org, click on Find a Farm Product, select beans from the first drop down list and either the city or zip code then click “Search” to get a list of links to local Arizona farms that produce beans.
Here are some great recipes from FillYourPlate.org. For Sunday dinner, try Mustard Crusted Pork Roast with southern style baked beans on the side. To make the beans, pick up your favorite brand at the grocery store and add yellow mustard to taste. At your next cookout, try this great southwestern recipe for Grilled Chicken with some spiced up baked beans and a citrus salad. To give the beans an Arizona feel, add a little salsa to your favorite brand or maybe a few drops of your favorite hot sauce. Looking for something a little more upscale? Try Short Ribs with Mushrooms and Red Wine accompanied by traditional Boston baked beans for a meal sure to please the most discerning diner.
It is fitting that July is National Baked Bean month, allowing us to celebrate one of the few truly original American dishes alongside America’s birthday. Whether you decide to try the traditional method of cooking or opt to just pick up a can at your local grocery store, baked beans are the perfect side dish for your mid-summer celebrations.
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