There’s something homey about a bean pot. Its shape has a cozy feel: round with a small opening, two ear-shaped handles and a tight-fitting lid with a pronounced handle. Here’s a classic vessel from Out of the Fire Studio, located in Edmonton, Alberta. It’s a big 4-quart bean pot. A stoneware pot has a bit of weight, which is what you want because your beans will bake slowly without burning and the flavors will fully permeate. I know beans are not chi chi, they are very nutritious, tasty and versatile. Side dishes, soups, purees, even loaves: beans are an unsung foodstuff. I like mine tangy with molasses and vinegar, or spicy with lots of garlic, or with herbs and tomato sauce. The navy bean, named after the staple favored by the U.S. Navy, is also called pea bean or haricot and is one of our favorite legumes.
Native Americans living in what was to become the northeast U.S. lived in good part on the Three Sisters crops. The Puritans added these to their diet after they arrived. Later, Bostonians exported rum, of which molasses is a byproduct, and molasses became a key ingredient in their baked beans. Here’s a classic recipe for Boston Baked Beans. (For an exotic touch, add a cup of good bourbon to your recipe. The alcohol content bakes out, but the flavor will remain.) In pre-Civil War times in the U.S., southerners made fun of Yankees because they ate navy beans, as is illustrated in this exchange in the Bette Davis movie, Jezebel, about the antebellum South:
“You know those little old white beans? Horse-feed beans? You know what they do with them in Boston? They eat them…. ladies and gentlemen eat them, what I hear.”
The design of bean pots is very old and appears to be based on the Roman olla or aula. Interestingly, Spaniards and Southwest Native Americans both call this type of vessel an olla and this fact must be connected to Spanish migration to the New World. If you extend the bean pot upward and make a neck, it would look like an ancient amphora….
These beautiful bean pots are sold through The Cooks Kitchen site in the UK. Made by le Creuset and part of their Poterie stoneware collection, they come in large or small. From here, we move to an exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Shown are bean pots made by the Medalta Pottery in Medicine Hat Alberta, where my husband was born. They were produced at the pottery from just after the turn of the century to the 1950s. Canadians use maple syrup and maple sugar in baked beans and here is a luscious-sounding French Canadian recipe. Whatever you do, use navy beans! I remember a big pot of baked beans I took to a potluck once. I couldn’t figure out why they’d taken so long to bake…but it turned out I’d accidentally used soybeans instead of navy beans!