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How Beantown Got its Name

Boston’s name is synonymous with baked beans, a dish perfect for cold February weather. Although still considered an iconic side dish or entree by many, few area restaurants serve Boston baked beans in 2015. So how did humble beans become forever linked with the city of Boston? Here’s the story.

Beantown Logo in Boston, MA

Image retrieved from Lori Hurley on Flickr

In the early seventeenth century, baked beans provided an easy answer to Sunday dinners. Adapted from a Native American recipe, the meal consisted of beans baked with molasses in a bean pot overnight to avoid actual cooking on the Sabbath. Kept warm in brick ovens, they were served with Dutch-style barley-based brown bread. Molasses kept well during cold months (like this February!), and this byproduct of sugar processing was abundant thanks to the rum-making trade. The meal remained a traditional Boston Sunday dinner until the early twentieth century.

Did you know?…

  • Building with Clock in Boston, MA

    Image retrieved from Amy the Nurse on Flickr

    In 1993, the state legislature declared the navy bean the original bean of the local dish

  • The navy bean is also the official state vegetable
  • An Old City Hall gallery sported a clock topped with a bean pot (placed there circa 1896)
  • Native Americans cooked their original recipe with bear fat in a fire pit

Separate events held nearly two decades apart helped cement the new nickname in the national consciousness. The first was an August 1890 reunion for Civil War veterans. Called the Twenty-Fourth National Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic, it was commemorated via thousands of souvenir ceramic bean pots supplied by the Beverly Pottery Company.

In 1907, the city officially honored former Boston residents with an event called Old Home Week. The festival of sorts recognized native Bostonians who had moved out of town for new opportunities and welcomed them back with a large celebration. Boston promoted the event with postcards and stickers emblazoned with a pair of hands entwined in a handshake over a bean pot.

Slogans included the following:

  • Souvenir of Boston and Vicinity, Won’t You Have Some? (accompanied by a picture of a bean pot)
  • Bigger, Better, Busier, Boston (with a bean sprout image)
  • You don’t know beans until you come to Boston

In 2015, you’ll need to hit restaurants near Boston’s historical sites to enjoy baked beans. Or make your own for a tasty February meal.

The dental staff at the Dental Partners of Brookline are always looking for delicious baked bean recipes. Do you have your own special Beantown recipe you would like to share? Please do so below in our comments section.

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