Sunday, January 22, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: New Hampshire I - Beans, Beans and Nothing But Beans!

By the time you read this post, the nation will already have finished nursing its post-New Hampshire "first-in-the-nation primary" hangover.  Far more exciting to me than watching a bunch of wanna-be presidents belittling each other is the food, which I will also be much better able to stomach.

Official Name: State of New Hampshire
State Nicknames: The Granite State
Admission to the US:  June 21, 1788 (#9)
Capital: Concord (3rd largest)
Other Important Cities: Manchester (largest), Nashua (2nd largest), Derry (4th largest)
Northeast, New England; New England (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Maple Syrup
Bordered by: Maine (east); Atlantic Ocean (southeast); Massachusetts (south); Vermont (west); Québec (Canada) (north)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: white-tailed deer (animal); brook trout (freshwater game fish); striped bass (saltwater game fish)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: Irish and French-Canadian/Québecois foods; maple syrup, apples, cranberries; typical New England foods

Like other areas of New England, New Hampshire has many of those classic Yankee dishes and staples: pies, cranberries, and of course maple syrup.  It stands to reason that maple should play a key role in the cuisine of northern New England.  The Granite State may not be the country's leading supplier of the stuff, but it still taps out a lot of it, producing around 90,000 gallons a year [NHMPA 2011].

Not only is maple syrup a key staple of Yankee cuisine; so is the incredible, edible baked bean.  Those of us outside of New England identify Boston-style baked beans, unmistakably infused with molasses, as the standard.  However - and this I did not know - there are different styles of baked beans across New England.  In New Hampshire and Vermont, the sweetener of choice isn't molasses.  Take a guess what it is.  If you haven't been paying attention, just look at the previous paragraph.

The Recipe: New Hampshire Maple Baked Beans (Slow Cooker Style)

As I often do when consulting about all food things New England, I consulted the works of Brooke Dojny.  In her definitive New England Cookbook [1999] she lists a different baked bean recipe for each of New England's six states.  Her entry for New Hampshire was not quick to find:

I consulted several cookbooks from the Granite State, including a charming community collection, The Stoddard Old Home Days Cookbook, from a town near Keene in the southern part of the state.  They all agree pretty much on the seasoning formula I use in this recipe, which calls for a bit of tomato ketchup to cut the sweetness of the maple syrup. [Dojny 1999:150]

The Stoddard recipe is the one I attempt below, with one big change: instead of cooking the beans over the stove for three or four hours, I decided to adapt it for the slow cooker.  I didn't really have to change any of the quantities, though I did follow the basic outline of the Vermont-based Maple Pork and Beans recipe that Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann lay out in their Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook [2005:196-197].  More or less, I used Dojny's ingredients with Hemsperger and Kaufmann's recipe.

Here's what you'll need for these baked beans:

* small beans (Dojny suggests navy beans or something similar.  I chose Great Northern ones)
* salt pork (ah yes, that staple of New England cooking.  I never realized how difficult it is to find salt pork in Baltimore, in any other format than the sliced pound of it.  A 12 oz package runs about $4)
* maple syrup (the grade will affect the flavor: a darker syrup will yield a more intense maple flavor, a lighter one will be less overpowering and more mellow.  At least, that's what the slow cooker book suggests)
* ketchup (just a tad, to counteract the intense sweetness of the maple syrup)
* dry mustard (had it)
* onion (scored and pushed into the beans - you shouldn't chop it up)
* salt and pepper (here, and they're in effect)

Start the night before by soaking your beans in just enough water to cover them.  Unless you want crunchy beans - hey, maybe that's your thing and all, but anyway...

♪ ♫ ♪ I got soaked beans the morning af-terrrrrrr... ♪ ♫ ♪

♪ ♫ ♪ I've got the onion nice and scorrrrrred... ♪ ♫ ♪

♪ ♫ ♪ Why don't we pour the maple syruuuuuupppp...
On the beans that will soon be warrrrrrrrm... ♪ ♫ ♪

(Ah, the 70's.  The Poseiden Adventure.  Anyway...)

After you pour the maple syrup onto the beans in your slow cooker, add the ketchup and spices.

Then cover barely with water.

Push the onion (which I halved) and salt pork into the beans. If you have one big chunk of salt pork, which I did not, Hensperber and Kaufmann suggest that you cut the fat off and put it in separately with the meaty part of the salt pork.

Set the slow cooker for about 10 to 12 hours on low.  Again, if you have one big chunk of salt pork, as once again I did not, you will remove the separate fat piece from the beans after about 6 hours, and then slow cook for another 6 hours.

Remove the onion and discard, or use it for something.

I've never made baked beans before, either on the stove or in the stove or in the slow cooker.  The flavor and smell of the maple is not too intense, but it is there and it is lovely.  In fact, I think I much prefer this recipe instead of the molasses one.  Plus, the salt pork literally melts in your mouth (I'm talking the non-fat part here).  It is luscious and hearty at the same time.  How often does that happen?


Clark, Edie.  "French Canadian meat pies are a family legacy (Best Cook: Meat Pie)".  Yankee Magazine, January/February 2010.

Dojny, Brooke.  The New England Cookbook.  Harvard Common Press: Boston, 1999.

Hensperger, Beth, and Julie Kaufmann. Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook. Harvard Common Press: Boston, 2005.

New Hampshire Historical Society.  "French Canadian Immigrants in New Hampshire" (PDF file "New Hampshire's French-Canadian Americans" linked to the NHHS "Education|Immigration Index".

New Hampshire Maple Producers Association (NHMPA).  "Home page".  Date unknown.  Copyright NH Maple Producers 2001-2011.

Yankee Magazine.  "Memère Rousseau's Tourtière (Meat Pie)".  January 2010.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "New Hampshire" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "New Hampshire".