Baked Navy Bean
The official state bean of Massachusetts is the baked navy bean (also called pea bean, boston bean, or yankee bean); recognized in 1993 by the state legislature. The Old World was familiar with several kinds of beans, but the American common bean* and the lima bean were unknown. Scholars believe that the Pilgrims learned how to bake navy beans from native Indians (the Narragansett, Penobscot, and Iroquois Indians created the first baked bean recipes).
Beans were a staple food in the American Indian diet. The Indians wrapped the navy beans in deerskins (or placed in earthenware pots) with venison, bear fat ,and maple syrup, then baked them in pits lined with hot stones. The religious beliefs of the Pilgrims forbade cooking on the Sabbath (sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday), and these baked beans made a perfect Saturday night supper because the leftovers could be eaten, still warm, the next morning for breakfast.
Later Boston became a major producer of rum. Molasses, the main ingredient for rum, was very plentiful and the recipe for baked beans was altered to include molasses in place of maple syrup. Salt pork was substituted for the bear fat and Boston Baked Beans were born. Boston became famous in colonial times for its baked beans, and to this day is called "Beantown."
July is National Baked Bean Month!
* The "American common bean" (Phaseolus vulgaris) includes all these native beans originating in the Americas: navy bean (so named because they sustained the seafaring branch of the military), red kidney, pinto, great northern, marrow, and yellow eye beans. It also includes all our edible-pod garden beans (string-less, snap, & string beans)