Illicit Goatees and Americana: On the Trail of Boston Baked Beans

I went to Boston on the search of culinary enlightenment, having spent the previous week living with a friend in New York and living off bananas. But without a map or a notion of what I was looking for, I stumbled upon the charming, colonial neighbourhood of Beacon Hill to find a traditional Boston meal in a traditional Boston eatery. Good smells slay me every time, so I was naturally rendered helpless when the spiced aroma of beans floated my way.

They are a simple yet daringly effective form of sustenance; just a plate of baked beans that have been sweetened by molasses and made smoky by the mysterious ways of pork chunks. Onions and black pepper play a part by giving the teeth something to chew on, but it is the Dijon mustard that gives the dish its extra edge. Or so I’m told at least.

The generous source of all this wonderful information was the restaurant’s head waitress who told me that it was once illegal to wear a goatee in Massachusetts unless you owned a licence to go with it.

The establishment itself was a wood-panelled finger-thrust of a place, darting into the hillside at the bottom of a flight of steps leading off Bowdoin Street. The wood-panelled walls were smeared in yellow paint and covered in all the very best of heart-warming Americana. Baseball blares loudly from the television and country on the radio.

My beans did not come alone, as the very thoughtful waitress brought a hunk of cornbread to help soak up whatever sauces and juices remained. Cornbread is another delectable foodstuff that came from the local Native American recipe book. It is slightly sweet, gently crumbling upon biting, and resembling something close to a sponge cake. Still, it is a glorious combination and one which I would heartily recommend to anybody. Just remember to check if your beard is still in date and valid before eating.

Boston Baked Beans

Ingredients

  • 1 fridge pack of baked beans
  • 3-6 tblsp. brown molasses sugar
  • 1 large finely white/yellow chopped onion
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • Pinch of black pepper
  • 2 pork chunks or slices of streaky bacon, halved and cooked

Method

Cook pork chunks or bacon with the onion until soft and sautéed. Mix in beans, brown sugar, and mustard. Pour into a baking dish and bake for 45 minutes at 180 degrees centigrade. Let dish sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Cornbread

Ingredients

  • 375g plain flour
  • 225g cornmeal
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 tsp. baking powder
  • 110g sugar
  • 480ml milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 110g butter, melted, plus extra for greasing tin
  • Small tin of drained sweet corn

Method

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Grease small baking pan with melted butter. Mix all the ingredients together except for the sweet corn until you have the consistency of cake batter, then add the sweet corn. Stir again before pouring into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 20 minutes in the top of the oven/cornbread is golden and springy to the touch.

 

Photography by Manu_H, jeffreyw, marcelo träsel, and tristanf

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