Baked Beans and late night reading

I stayed up way too late last night reading Mark Kurlansky’s compilation of depression era food writing titled The Food of a Younger Land (with an extremely long subtitle). What a gem! A window into another time when people made food a big part of their lives, when cooking was something you did because you had to (sounds negative but I mean this in a good way; we lose something if we don’t connect food with our survival, I think.)

I particularly enjoyed the description of Boston baked beans. The dish is a reminder of how politics and power and economics influence what we eat–always have. The reason they eat baked beans in Boston, says Kurlansky, is because of the cod-slave-sugar trade route of which the city was a hub. Baked beans simmer for hours in molasses. And the dish was intimately linked to the household in that people could cook those beans for hours and hours and hours because they would simply put the pot on the hearth that was keeping the house warm.

The remarkable writings are the product of a federal works program in Depression Era USA that hired writers and would-be writers to record the eating habits of a nation. It certainly is an interesting look into what the food we ate was like before the entire food system was industrialized after World War II.