Mystic Baked Beans

Mystic, Connecticut was once a bustling port filled with whaling ships set to embark on dangerous, and lucrative, voyages across the world.

A ship’s homecoming after such a voyage brought promise not only of valuable spermaceti, which was used in cosmetics and candles, but also of more exotic cargo, like tropical fruit and spices. Seafaring husbands would often bring their wives these goods from far-off places like New Zealand and Japan, and the suppers enjoyed on the eve of a ship’s return were indeed festive affairs.

Mystic’s most famous whaling ship: The Charles W. Morgan


Sometimes, if a whaler was lucky enough to have enjoyed a bit of leisure on the high seas, he would also present his wife with a crimping wheel or birdcage delicately carved from whalebone. Known as scrimshaw, these intricate works of whalebone were treasured by families of seafaring men.

But the return of a whaling ship was a special occasion. The lives of Mystic families were usually far more austere. Sunday heralded a roast beef, or some boiled fowl. The rest of the week saw stews of beans and root vegetables, with a piece or two of salt pork thrown in for flavor.

On the busiest day of the week, wash day, when the stove was taken over by boiling pans of water and steaming irons, only the simplest dish was served — usually a sweet and savory pot of baked beans. Here’s a traditional recipe, as recorded in The Mystic Seaport Cookbook, for a tasty pot of baked beans from an old seafaring family.

Sea Cook’s Baked Beans

2 pounds dried beans
1/2 to 3/4 pound salt pork
1 apple
1 medium-sized onion (optional)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark molasses
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Soak beans in cold water overnight. In the morning, parboil until skins crack. Transfer to beanpot and add salt pork cut down to the rind in cubes. Cut the apple into chunks and bury them and the onion in the beans. Mix sugar, molasses, mustard, pepper and salt with about 2 cups boiling water and pour over beans and pork. Bake in a 300 degree F. oven for 6 hours. Add water when necessary. If you like the pork crisp, take off the cover for the last 30 minutes or so. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

"Bean" Down So Long that It Looks Like Beef to Me

Here’s a tasty and economical dish from A Veggie Venture. There’s nothing cheaper, and more nutritious, than beans. The ham bone adds a touch of flavor — leave it out if you prefer your soup vegetarian. Serve this with a hunk of wholegrain sourdough bread. The price: About $6.50 for the entire meal. Not bad!

15-Bean Soup

Hands-on time: 5 minutes the night before, 15 minutes the next day
Time to table: 12 – 24 hours
Makes 11 cups

20 ounces assorted beans
1 big ham bone (my choice, but could use a couple of ham hocks or some sliced ham)
1 large onion, chopped
15 ounces canned diced tomato
1 teaspoon chili powder
Juice of a lemon (don’t skip this)
1 – 2 cloves garlic, minced (I used a tablespoon from a jar)
SPICE PACKET – I ignored this

NIGHT BEFORE: Rinse the beans and pick out any dried beans. Cover with 2 quarts of water and leave to soak overnight. The beans will expand about 3X so be sure your pot is big enough. Drain the water.

DAY OF: Put the beans in a very large pot or Dutch oven. Cover with two quarts of new water. Add the ham bone (or whatever you’re using) and onion. (The bag says to add the onion just a half hour before serving. To my taste, the onion was completely raw like that.) Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for 2 1/2 hours. If a kind of scummy foam rises to the top, scrape it off with a slotted spoon and discard.

Add the tomatoes, garlic, chili powder and lemon juice and let simmer for another 30 – 60 minutes. At this point, Mary some times adds a can of drained and rinsed beans.