Baked beans on a Saturday night endures as a time-honored New England tradition.

In some homes, that meal is prepared by simply opening a can of beans and heating them. In other homes, the baked bean dinner on Saturday night is the result of cooking dried beans with molasses. That takes a few hours, but for many New Englanders, there’s no excuse for taking any shortcuts.

Even so, cooking baked beans “from scratch” these days, is a great deal simpler than it was several decades ago. That’s evident in the details printed in an old copy of the Lewiston Evening Journal.

The newspaper article from 50 years ago asserted that nothing can excel baked beans “Indian style” right in the home lawn, according to Mrs. F. J. Fenderson of Auburn.

She said that she has found that “the proof of the beans is the eating.”

Let’s hope so … it sounded like a long and difficult process.


Mrs. Fenderson saw an item in a 100-year-old copy of the Lewiston Journal describing a home-lawn fireless pit, so she set about experimenting. In her garden pea-plot she excavated two holes, each a foot in diameter and about 12 inches deep — just large enough to take in her two-quart bean pot and her old-fashioned iron brown bread dish with cover.

She lined the two holes with rocks, bottom and sides, driving the rocks into the dirt on the side with a hammer. Small kindling and a bit of hardwood were used for a fire that burned for an hour, thoroughly heating the stones.

She took pains to put a large flat stone partially over the mouth of each pit to also be heated. Meanwhile, on the stove in the kitchen, Mrs. Fenderson allowed a quart of heated pea beans and her brown bread to “set” on the heat for perhaps three-quarters of an hour. Then she transferred her beans and brown bread to the two heated pits.

The brown bread hole contained more small stones which were poked aside and piled around the dish. The hot flat stones were placed snugly over the two pits.

Weeds were packed over the stones and then six or seven inches of earth was spread solidly over the weeds.

This work was normally done at nightfall. Next morning, upon removing the coverings to the pits, Mrs. Fenderson would find her food thoroughly cooked and so warm that neither beans nor brown bread required reheating.


The article said Mrs. Fenderson “is so pleased with her lawn firepit that she plans to make a third pit in which to cook Indian pudding.”

For many people, it’s important to specify that it must be “Boston baked beans” if it’s the “real thing.” Boston baked beans are sweetened with molasses and sometimes with some maple syrup. They are also flavored with some salt pork or bacon.

It’s been a long time since the wonderful aroma of fresh baked beans filled the kitchen in the older part of our farmhouse. The big black Queen Atlantic wood-burning stove is still there, but it’s not now used because a relining of the chimney should be done. Nevertheless, the stove dominates that kitchen, and it’s still easy to remember the mouth-watering aroma of so many meals once prepared on it.

It’s probably imagination, but it still seems that baked beans cooking for a full day in the oven of that wood-burning stove had to be the best.

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