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Karen Bespalov
Karen Bespalov

The Truth About Baked Beans: An Edible History ...

Welcome to the fifth installment of Notable Sandwiches, the series in which I alphabetically work my way through Wikipedia\u2019s sprawling, mammoth List of Sandwiches. I understand that readers may experience some whiplash as this newsletter ferociously alternates between topics (the recent pattern has been: bacon egg and cheese\u2014child abuse\u2014bagels\u2014child abuse\u2014baked beans\u2014child abuse). For me, writing these articles is a way to escape the darkest parts of the human experience; I hope you also appreciate these notes of carb-loaded levity. It\u2019s a way to break free of the news cycle, the brain-numbing discourses concerning the price of milk, and what constitutes rape, and who is feuding with whom on Twitter, the sorts of things that enhance the sense I\u2019ve had lately that every day is drearily melding into the next, an eternal, pandemic-y, inescapable now. But time passes and I move through it, and you do too, towards whatever light or cataclysm awaits us. Today we\u2019re exploring the baked bean sandwich. It is November 5, and tomorrow the sun will rise, and next week there will be a new sandwich. I spent a lot of time reading about the history of beans for this week\u2019s installment, and it was great.

The Truth about Baked Beans: An Edible History ...

Let\u2019s get this out of the way first\u2014the part where I explain why I\u2019ve strayed from the task at hand. The baked bean sandwich, the nominal subject of this article, takes a ubiquitous New England staple and sticks it between two slices of bread. The Wikipedia article doesn\u2019t even address the U.K.\u2019s beloved baked beans on toast. There\u2019s literally no meat to this sandwich\u2014it\u2019s just carb/carb/carb\u2014so we\u2019re going to discuss the filling; this is a column about baked beans. Also, while I recognize that a baked bean sandwich is not the world\u2019s most appetizing-looking foodstuff, there is no excuse for this terrifying photo in the article:

Practically every single history of baked beans you can find on the Internet goes something like this. When European settlers arrived on New England\u2019s rocky shores in the 1600s, they were aided by the ancient and mysterious wisdom of the Indigenous tribes, including the Native habit of baking beans in quaint earthenware vessels with maple syrup and bear fat, creating the antecedent to the sweet, smoky, calorific dish we know today. The European settlers, with their Yankee thrift and indomitable European innovation, swapped in molasses and pork, handing the tradition down over the centuries until, with the advent of modern technology, it became the humble but indispensable canned dish of the present, ready to be sluiced out onto some toast.

Muckenhoupt\u2019s book (subtitled An Edible History of New England) is, genuinely, a marvel. I have read a fair number of food books in my time, and The Truth About Baked Beans is a standout: a barbed, witty and meticulous exploration of truths and lies about New England cookery, of which the pot of baked beans is a naggingly persistent highlight.

The book is centered around one essential thesis: our ideas about what \u201CNew England food\u201D means are extremely narrow and inaccurate. This was a deliberate choice by a bunch of stuffy Victorians who were concerned at the erosion of WASP supremacy in the region. Around the centennial celebrations of the U.S. in 1876, these fancy Yankees came down with a case of Colonial fever. They were desperate to shore up the region\u2019s reputation as a repository of the nation\u2019s history, of pure nature, Godly living, and absolutely none of the smelly garlicky immigrants that actually lived in New England. So they plunged the region\u2019s foodways kicking and screaming back into an imagined colonial Eden, and the result has been a century or so of culinary stultification. What was left after the Victorian purge were the items you \u201Cknow\u201D as New England staples: clam chowder, Maine lobster, apple cider, brown bread, baked beans, and\u2026 little else. (If this brazen and sentimentalist myth-making sounds familiar, Thanksgiving was also a Victorian invention, spearheaded by \u201CGodey\u2019s Lady\u2019s Book\u201D author Sarah Josepha Hale.)

The ubiquity of the baked-bean myth in pop histories\u2014the way bad sources cannibalize each other, building and building on a rickety myth of the past until it seems secure\u2014contains within it a parable about historiography, how difficult it is to suss out the truth across centuries, and how valuable such excavation is, futile though it may seem. Finding truth amid saccharine falsehood is a difficult thing; our minds are full of stories like this, little tales and factoids based on deliberate misunderstandings and subsequent laziness and motivated mythmaking, and judicious as we might try to be, we will never uncover all of them. We live among them, knowing that, as humans, we have cultivated stories (and beans) for millennia, as spiritually nutritive ways of keeping ourselves going. Most aren\u2019t true\u2014or are half-true\u2014and it is hard, hard work, Muckenhouptian muckraking, to suss out why.

I am thinking, now, about Pythagoras again. I would like to return to him and ask him about the numerology of mystery. I would like to know if he chose death over beans, how he died, what he believed. I never can, but that doesn\u2019t mean truth-seeking is worthless; it\u2019s brave, and hard, and strange, letting the curtain of saccharine bean-steam dispel, and peering clear-eyed into the pot to analyze the murk within.

By the time Amelia Simmons had published American Cookery, the first American cookbook, in 1796, pumpkin pie had evolved into a form similar to the pumpkin pies of the modern day. American Cookery included two recipes for "pompkin pudding" baked in pie crust. While early pumpkin pies were made like fruit pies with sliced or fried pumpkin combined with spice, sugar and apples in a pastry crust, Simmons' recipe was for a pumpkin custard filling made with sugar, eggs and cream. The custard version of pumpkin pie appears in later cookbooks like The Virginia Housewife (1824) where it is made with brandy and a lattice-top, and in Eliza Leslie's 1827 cookbook where it appears as "pumpkin pudding". The pumpkin pie became a Thanksgiving standard, featured in Lydia Maria Child's 1844 poem The New-England Boy's Song about Thanksgiving Day:[24]

In the U.S., the commercial dry edible bean industry originated in New York in the mid-1800s. That state maintained its dominance in bean production until the early 1900s when Michigan became the leading producer. In 1991, North Dakota became the largest producer, a position it maintains currently. The U.S. is one of the world's leading dry bean exporters, with about 30% of the total production being exported annually.

Dry bean consumption in the United States has increased recently, and is currently at about 7.5 pounds per person per year with the biggest increases in consumption of pinto and black bean classes. The major uses of dry beans include dry packaged beans for home use, canned beans (both whole beans and otherwise), brine-packed whole beans and bean flour for commercial baking. Supermarkets sell bagged dry beans and canned products such as refried beans, soups, chili and baked beans. Restaurants use dry edible beans in foods such as tacos, burritos and chili. Restaurants and the fast-food market currently account for a significant percentage of cooked bean consumption. The rate of export of beans has been relatively stable to down slightly for the past decade. Mexico is the largest importer of dry beans produced in the U.S. Beans are often included in food donations provided to other countries by the U.S. government. With the recent trend in the U.S. to consume less animal protein, dry bean consumption may see additional demand, either directly or for use in meat-like products. The wide variety of beans available, each with its own unique characteristics, offer versatile ingredients that can be used in many types of cooking.

In truth, it actually took a few years for Kirk to complete his baked bean-obsessed transformation. But in 1991, he legally changed his name by deed poll to Captain Beany. Not stopping there, he started painting his face and (now completely bald) head orange, and began wearing a golden cape, pants, gloves and boots.

Like soya, Quorn is a complete protein. It is made from an edible fungus and has a meat-like texture. It is naturally low in saturated fat. It contains more fibre than an equivalent portion of baked beans, wholemeal bread or brown rice. It is sold in a range of forms from mince to fillets, so can easily be swapped with meat, but take care to read labels as the salt content can vary. 041b061a72


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