29 December 2008


The History of Pork and Beans is a convoluted series of American plume waving that gets mixed up into the very colonization of North America. Van Camp's began commercializing Pork and Beans in the 1880s in response to having received a contract with the U.S. Army during The American Civil War. Frank Van Camp, the son who went on to found Van Camp's Seafood, then added his own creation, Catsup, (about 100 years after the Chinese began trading it). The recipe, which was very popular, came from traditional European cuisine. It was even the main dish served at the first Thanksgiving feast that Native Americans in Florida shared with the Spanish Moors, who landed there in 1513. That's 108 years before the feast of Wampanoag in 1621, where The Pilgrims mythically held the original Thanksgiving feast, celebrating their first successful crops. Incidentally, these same black Spanish Moors went on to visit the Mississippi River, travel on foot from Florida to The Gulf Of California, and sail up the coast of Oregon some 267 years prior to the escapades of everyone's favourite Fourth Grade History topic, Lewis and Clark. 

But I digress...

The ingredients? Garbanzo Beans, Pork, and Black Pepper.

It's difficult to place the exact origin of Pork and Beans, as its timeline of introduction to diet ranges from around 6500 B.C. to 7000 B.C.  It is found throughout Europe in many variations. Today, I present to you one of my favorites, a rather Scandinavian influenced Northern Italian dish called,

"Jota."  - Friulian bean and sauerkraut soup.

Sauerkraut originated in China circa 200 B.C.  It was used to supplement the diets of workers who built The Great Wall and who subsisted mainly on rice.  It was also originally made with rice wine.  The introduction of sauerkraut to Europe is accredited to Genghis Kahn when he used it to nourish his troops on his raids into Eastern Europe during the 13th century.

The play of flavours in this dish are amazing.  Warm and comforting while at the same time lively and rhythmic.  


1 Lb. Barlotti Beans dried, rinsed soaked and drained
1 Lb. Pork Shoulder, cubed
1 small Onion, minced
3 cloves Garlic, minced
2 cups Italian Parsley, chopped
Sage Leaves to taste, about 3 or 4
1 T. Olive Oil
1 T. flour
1 T. Butter 
2-3 Tbsps. course Polenta (Corn Grits)
4 oz. Pancetta, sliced 1/4 " strips
2 cups quality Sauerkraut (I highly recommend Pickled Planet) 
Sea Salt, to taste
Fresh Ground Pepper, to taste

Place beans and pork in a large saucepan with 2 quarts of cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, skimming any foam until beans are just tender, about an hour.  Add water if necessary during this to keep the beans immersed. Cover and set aside.

In a small skillet, heat olive oil and butter. Add flour, stirring for a few seconds. Add onion, garlic, parsley and sage and cook until beginning to soften. Add polenta and combine for a couple of minutes. Stir mixture into beans.

Return pan to heat and cook pancetta until just beginning to crisp.  Add to beans.

Stir sauerkraut into beans and return to heat.  Season with sea salt and pepper and simmer 30 minutes or until beans are tender.  

I recommend a good Alsace with this.  Specifically, Domaine du Barmés Buecher Muscat Ottonel 2004. This wine is intensely floral (jasmine, honeysuckle) in the nose with a good mineral mouth and a complex finish of sweet and dry. A very contemplative wine that plays beautifully with this dish of similarly contrasting character.

This soup makes for a lovely 1st course for 12 in an unconventional feast, in honour of the real 1st Thanksgiving.  Or serves 6 generously as a main course anytime you want a delicious soup that will not bore you. 

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