Regional tradition: New England church supper

A church in Stowe, Vermont (courtesy icemomo at flickr’s Creative Commons)My recent Family Travel blog post on 10 reasons to visit Rhode Island, plus a little brisk fall weather, inspires me to tell you about a culinary tradition in the U.S. northeast:  the New England church supper.

A long-time fundraiser for local churches, they are held year-round but seem to peak along with the foliage in the autumn months.  Volunteer fire departments, service organizations (Lions, Kiwanis) and the Grange, a rural social organization, also hold these suppers.

If you travel in the New England states (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut) just ask at your lodging, check the local newspaper or look for the hand-written signs posted around town.

Meals are often “ham and bean” or “spaghetti and meatballs,” but the hardcore foodies look for a “bean-hole bean supper.”

To make these baked beans, you basically dig a big hole in the ground, burn a fire in it for awhile, then put your pre-prepped bean pot with your secret recipe in to bubble deliciously for hours until you dig it out.  It’s somewhat analogous to the method for a beach clambake.

The Maine Folklife Center tells the history of bean-hole cooking, and All Recipes has a pretty good recipe for it.  You only need, oh, about 12-13 hours to get it all done.

There’s a cookbook for devotees:  the Church Supper & Potluck Dinner Cookbook published by Yankee Magazine.

Alternatively, look for the pancake breakfast, another standard fundraiser, and local variations on that may mean cranberries or blueberries added to the batter, or johnnycake, a kind of cornmeal pancake.

Want only the real deal?  Get Johnny Cake Corn Meal from The Kenyon Corn Meal Company’s gristmill on the Queen’s River in miniscule Usquepaugh (“Us-kwe-paw”) Rhode Island.

Of course, if you can, it’s yummier to visit in person.

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