We ate baked beans every Saturday night. It was all because my family was from New Brunswick, on the East coast of Canada. As far as I know, every person in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island used to eat baked beans on Saturday night. In New England too. I would bet good money that many people Down East still do.
My mother said she made beans because it was convenient. We could go shopping on Saturday and not have to worry about cooking dinner. The beans were already in the oven.
But I knew the truth. It was tradition.
It didn’t matter whether we still lived in New Brunswick. It didn’t matter whether we wanted beans that Saturday night. If it was Saturday, beans were what we were going to eat.
Personally, I thought beans were a boring excuse for a meal. Adding hot dogs or fish cakes and biscuits or homemade bread didn’t particularly help.
I dreaded the years my birthday fell on a Saturday. Birthday cake–and beans!
Washing the bean pot was on my list of most-dreaded chores. My sister and I took turns washing the dishes, and each of us, day by day, decided the pot needed to soak a little longer. Saturday morning would come and my mother would hit the roof because the bean pot was full of smelly, funky water with a few of last week’s beans still clinging to the sides.
My mother was proud of her beans. And for some reason, other people liked them too. I think it was just because Westerners thought that beans came out of a Heinz can. They praised her beans to the sky. They stopped by on a Saturday afternoon, hoping to be invited for supper. They knew she always cooked enough to feed everyone on the north side of town.
All I could think was, “For heaven’s sake, I wish they wouldn’t encourage her!”
When I grew up and left home, I stopped thinking about baked beans, unless I was visiting my family–and Saturday night rolled around.
And in my own home, I didn’t make or eat homemade beans.
The first time my mother came to visit me, she made herself at home in my kitchen. I heard the sounds of clashing pots. After a few minutes, she came to me, puzzled.
“Margaret,” she said. “Where do you keep your bean pot?”
“I don’t have one,” I replied.
My mother thought about that for several seconds.
“Well then,” she said, “How do you make beans?”
And I replied with the answer that left her flabbergasted.
Years and years passed. I reached the age of nostalgia. I began to long, just a little, for real homemade baked beans. I even began to long for a bean pot of my very own.
In an antique shop in western New York state, one of those cluttered, junky, dusty, dirt-cheap antique shops, I spotted a small bean pot. Chubby, brown on top, cream on the bottom. The right colors, the right shape, the right kind of handles, the right lid.
“That would be just the right size,” I thought. And I bought it.
Since then, every once in a long while, I make baked beans. I know how. I’d watched my mother hundreds of times. I’d made them myself too. Reluctantly, to be sure, but I’d made them.
Mine are never quite as good as hers.
She never used a recipe, didn’t need to. But I’ve tried to guesstimate the amounts for the beans she made, just in case you or my children or my grandchildren develop a craving for beans, New Brunswick style.
I’ll test it one more time and post it for you tomorrow or the next day.