The following recipe for pork and beans comes from Lydia Maria Francis Child’s 1841 cookbook The American Frugal Housewife: Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy. In this fascinating tome she offers the reader helpful advice and recipes for coping with privation. She cheerfully writes that “the true economy of housekeeping is simply the art of gathering up all the fragments, so that nothing be lost.” She goes on to stress that she means “fragments of time, as well as materials.” For Child, nothing should be thrown away, and all members of the family “should be employed either in earning or saving money.” Children can engage in patchwork or the braiding of straw hats and bonnets, she suggests. Above all, careful household accounts must be kept and the virtue of economy practiced at all times, for only then can one have “the permanent power of being useful and generous.”
Child’s book is indeed part cookbook, part instruction manual on household economy. She offers cures for various ailments (those who wish to preserve their health, she cautions, should never “drink strong green tea, eat pickles, preserves and rich pastry”) and hints on how to endure poverty (avoid “indolent and extravagant habits”).
The following recipe for pork and beans is a simple dish, enough to feed a large family on a cold winter’s night. Serve it with a hearty cornbread doused in fresh butter.
Frugal Pork and Beans
Baked beans are a very simple dish, yet few cook them well. They should be put in cold water and hung over fire the night before they are baked. In the morning they should be put in a colander and rinsed two or times; then again placed in a kettle with the pork you intend to bake, covered with water, and kept scalding hot, an hour or more. A pound of pork is quite enough for a quart of beans, and that is a large dinner for a common family. The rind of the pork should be slashed. Pieces of pork, alternately fat and lean, are the most suitable–cheeks are the best. A little pepper sprinkled among the beans when they are placed in the bean pot will render them less unhealthy. They should be just covered with water when put into the oven and the pork should sink a little below the surface of the beans. Bake for four hours.