The industrious brethren and sisters who founded the Shaker community here in 1780 doubtless would have been pleased by a special dinner in the restored village on a recent Saturday night. More than 120 people circled a long table set up in the Great Brick Dwelling, tasting the contents of 25 bean pots and voting for the three they liked the best.
Known for the excellence of their cuisine, the early Shakers might have appreciated the event, called the Boston Bean Bake.It was an informal competition among Berkshire Mountain area cooks who have a reputation for "having a way with baked beans."
When the contest was planned, Martin Kelley, member of the family which purchased Boston's Durgin-Park Restaurant three years ago, and Kenneth Fernald, head chef and bearer of the century-old title of Chief Bean Man, agreed to choose the winners.
When they saw the number of entries, they reneged, explaining "we can't face 22 losers." So a last-minute solution was advanced. "This is the season for primaries, so we'll all vote, just as if we were choosing a presidential candidate," Mrs. Lawrence K. Miller, president of Hancock Shaker Community, said.
After an hour of tasting and comparing notes, the people who would later sit down to a supper of codfish cakes, cole slaw, and more baked beans brought from Boston, chose the entry of Dr. Bernard Auge, Pittsfield, as top winner. It turned out that the recipe developed by Dr. Auge, father of five children, during 20 years of baking beans for family gatherings, resembles the century-old recipe used at Durgin-Park.
The variety of baked beans entered in the contest would have dumbfounded a Cabot or a Lodge or most any native of the "land of the bean and the cod."
Black beans were cooked Jamaican style, lima beans with ham, and beans baked in maple syrup, Vermont style. But Boston-style beans, with variations so slight that one voter called them "nuances," took the three top spots. Contest awards to the bean cooks were bean pots.
Because he is busy during the day, the top winner, Dr. Auge, bakes his beans at night. "The important thing," he explained, "is not to give the beans too much liquid. I get up three or four times during the night and add just a little liquid each time. The liquid in the bean pot should never be more than one-quarter inch above the top of the beans." Dr. Auge "never measures the hot water" called for in the following recipe. "Use your own judgment," he advised, "but have enough of the liquid mixture in a pitcher near the oven to keep the beans nicely moist."
The following recipe, designed for a large family, can be cut in half. Bernie's Baked Beans 4 pounds California pea beans 1 pound salt pork, diced 16 tablespoons sugar 1 1/3 cups molasses 4 teaspoons dry mustard 6 teaspoons salt 3 teaspoons pepper 6 small whole onions
Soak beans all day or overnight. Rinse with cold water. Place half of salt pork in the bottom of a bean pot along with the six whole onions.
Mix remaining ingredients with hot water. Put beans in bean pot and arrange remaining salt pork over top of beans. Pour liquid over beans, being sure liquid is not more than 1/4 inch above beans. Cover top of bean pot with aluminum foil and place in a 325 degree F. oven for 7 hours or overnight.
Be sure to add liquid when necessary to keep beans moist, at least 3 or 4 times during cooking. Remove aluminum foil 1/2 hour before end of baking period to allow beans to brown.
Rita C. Coppola, who lives in Richmond, a bean bag's toss from the Hancock Shaker Village, was a prize-winner with a recipe she obtained from her grandmother, who was of French descent and lived in Maine. Grandma's Baked Beans 1 pound navy pea beans 1/2 pound lean salt pork in thin slices 3 slices of onion 1 teaspoon dry mustard 1/4 cup molasses 4 slices of bacon cut in thirds 1/4 cup dark brown sugar.
Soak beans overnight. Drain and boil in fresh water with 1 teaspoon of baking soda for 6 to 8 minutes. Drain and layer beans in pot with onion, mustard, molasses and 3 of the bacon slices and salt pork.Spread brown sugar and 1 bacon slice, in thirds, over top of bean pot.
Add hot water until it reaches just over the top of beans. Bake at 300 degrees F. for 3 to 4 hours. If beans get dry, add hot water, a few drops at a time. Often it is not necessary to add water since beans cook at a low heat.