Before moving to Massachusetts, I thought everyone ate baked beans and brown bread on Saturday night. And so, the first time I visited friends in Boston on a Saturday, I fully expected to be hit by the smell of beans baking and bread steaming when I stepped over the threshold. As it turned out, if I was counting on a traditional New England meal, I was hundreds of years too late. It was the Puritans who ate baked beans and brown bread for supper on Saturday night and again for lunch on Sunday. Frugal to a fault and prohibited from cooking on the Sabbath, they created a meal from molasses-sweetened beans sometimes baked in the local tavern’s oven and brown bread, also with molasses, steamed in tall containers in large fireplaces.
Because wheat did not grow well in New England, but rye and corn thrived, the breads were made with a combination of rye flour and cornmeal. Sometimes raisins and other dried fruit were added to the batter. The bread was the kind of recipe that lent itself to timely updating that was not lost on home bakers. In our date-pecan version, cornmeal is used, but all-purpose flour replaces rye flour. The loaf is sweetened with molasses and sugar, which even if available, would have been too pricey for most Colonial cooks. And instead of steaming it in a can over boiling water, we’ve taken the easy way and baked it in a loaf pan. No doubt the Puritans would love it.
– By Jean Kressy, a food writer in Ashburnham, Mass.