Back to all articles

The History of Baked Beans

The history of baked beans is somewhat contested. The traditional story holds that Indigenous people taught the Puritan colonists how to bake beans in earthenware pots. For the who Puritans wouldn’t work on the Sabbath, baked beans provided a solution — they could be made for supper on Saturday and stayed warm overnight to be enjoyed again as a breakfast option. However, some food historians have claimed that they cannot find any direct evidence that Indigenous peoples living in the Northeast cooked foods in earthenware pots. Furthermore, a Maine novelist named Kenneth Roberts has argued that baked beans were not an Indigenous dish, but instead were originally cooked as a traditional dish by North African and Spanish Jews. What we do know for sure is that beans were one of the Three Sisters of the Indigenous tribes of the Northeast. Along with corn and squash, they provided key nutrition and soil enrichment. While we may never know exactly how the European settlers were introduced to making baked beans or precisely how they evolved into the food we are familiar with today, we do know that the dish caught on and that each region developed its own unique version of it. For example, Boston baked beans are usually made with navy beans and molasses and baked in a beanpot. But areas further north, such as some New Hampshire townships, sweeten their baked beans with maple syrup instead. Mainers traditionally cook their baked beans in a hole in the ground, following the way the Penobscot people cooked theirs in years past. Boston baked beans are always paired with brown bread, while Rhode Islanders traditionally serve their baked beans with johnnycakes. Each region has evolved their own unique version of the recipe and even today, opinions remain strong on which is the “best” version of this classic New England dish. Of course, baked beans have also made their way to other parts of the country, and beans remain a staple food in many cuisines all over the world.

Share this article

card showing the history of rocking chairs

Your go-to guide for weird history facts

Subscribe to the FREE daily email that makes learning about history fun.