Boston Brown Bread, Baked Beans, and Apple Pie

“…times have changed. But some things haven’t. We still need food. Food’s still a gift. We still need each other. And it’s still those things–not money, not the economy, not our ambitions–that bring us joy.”

It’s Tuesday, which means we’re spending it with Fannie Farmer!

This week, my journey into the Fannie Farmer cookbook took place {mostly} on Saturday, when I decided to try and replicate Mr. S’s mother’s traditional Saturday night dinner: Boston Brown Bread (baked in an old can) and Boston Baked Beans.

Although our town is on Long Island, it’s so near the tip of the island, and was settled so long ago by people from New England, that–especially among the older folk–it leans culturally more toward New England than New York. That’s part of why I’ve chosen to peek into past American cookery starting with Fannie Farmer–because her cookbook more or less represents the kind of cooking that once went on in, well, the very room I’m sitting in now.

I have to confess that the Brown Bread was not particularly brown because I couldn’t find any molasses in town. Unfortunately, what makes both the bread and the beans “Bostonian” is that they are supposed to have molasses in them; apparently because Boston was a trade center for rum and molasses was (is?) used in rum-making. I had to “make do” (as Mr. S says) with dark brown sugar, and the result–in both bread and beans–was quite good.

Baked beans (you can find a great recipe–almost identical to Fannie’s–here) get cooked slowly all day, which makes them perfect for a chilly late-summer/early fall day when you’re cold but not quite ready to turn on the heat. It’s a warming and simple dish, and totally recession-friendly, since a huge pot can be made for something like $5 or less.

And apple pie makes a perfect dessert, especially Fannie’s apple pie. It’s so light in sugar, so simple, and so very homey and delicious! I’m having lots of fun making pastry and pie crust, and my favorite “discovery” so far is the old-fashioned advice of rolling pastry on a floured linen. How simple! It’s better than a Silpat for that purpose.

But the best part of this old-fashioned dinner was bringing it to my friends. The world has changed so much since their mothers served them brown bread and baked beans and apple pies. It brings me great joy to share something tasty and familiar with them, and sit together, eating and talking about old times, including the days of rationing and Victory Gardens. Yes, the times have changed. But some things haven’t. We still need food. Food’s still a gift. We still need each other. And it’s still those things–not money, not the economy, not our ambitions–that bring us joy.

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