We need a beans swaggon revival. What a warm and comforting, richly beany, chowder-like dish. A couple of weeks ago Bev Bubar wrote to say that she remembered her grandmother cooking swaggon all day on the back of the wood stove. Then, Alan Badine, writing from way out West, asked about it, too. Alan’s family worked in Maine logging camps.
He wrote, “All I can recall is that the main ingredient of the dish was beans, and was wet, but more like a stew than soup, with the bean liquor retained.” He suggested that the name might have been some bastardization of a French word. Could be. I hunted all over the place in all my usual reference corners but could not find an origin for the word. If one of you has a clue, write us, would you?
Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, why this sudden fascination with the beans swaggon tradition? I’m just glad it came up just in time for slow-cooking season, wood stove or not. Ann Smith in St. Albans and Judi Smith in Hampden sent recipes. Ann says she has made swaggon for fifty years, and that the “not very precise” recipe she uses came down through her husband’s family. She suggested a hot biscuit to go with it and a crisp dill pickle. Judi found her recipe in the Herman Senior Citizen Club cookbook from 1982 originally submitted by Delmont Getchell.
It is unbelievably economical: a package of dried beans, milk or half and half or a can of evaporated milk, a little piece of salt pork or some bacon (optional) or dab of butter, and an onion. Add water. And it is nutritious as all-get-out. Legumes — beans and peas — when combined with dairy products and-or grains make vegetable matter into complete proteins nutritionally comparable to meat. Add a slice of grainy bread and you are all set. Better yet, make a toasted cheese sandwich to go with the swaggon and you’ll be well fortified for anything that a lousy economy and a cold Maine winter can throw at you.
Judi’s recipe is the very soul of simplicity: 1 cup of beans soaked overnight, stewed until cooked, with 1 cup of milk plus a small can of evaporated milk, a piece of butter and then salt and pepper added. That would easily serve two.
Ann’s recipe gives us a few more details and a recipe flexible enough for four to eight servings. She recommends Jacob’s Cattle beans but I think yellow eyes or even pintos would work just fine. She reminds us to sort and wash them to get the little stones and bits of dirt out.
Don’t forget the biscuits and pickles.
Makes 4-8 servings
1-2 pounds of Jacob’s Cattle (or other) dry beans
¼-½ pound of salt pork cubed
1 small onion chopped
1 ½-3 cups half and half (or whole milk)
2 tablespoons of butter
Salt and pepper
Put the beans, pork and onion in a large dutch oven or other heavy cook pot. Cover with cold water and cook over medium heat, covered, stirring every 15 minutes or so, until the beans soften. Make sure you keep plenty of water in them. When the beans are completely soft and begin to break up, cut the heat to very low, remove the pot cover and add the milk or half and half and butter. Sample and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve when heated through.
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