Take a homely, brown dish like Boston baked beans and you have to wonder how it survived all these centuries, from a time when the pot would simmer in the hearth and beans were a staple. Well into the last century, beans were cooked on Saturday and eaten with franks, and on Sunday morning, they appeared next to the eggs at breakfast. And on another day, you might be met with this surprising and cheap lunch: cold bean sandwiches.
And still, Boston baked beans are beloved by anyone who was raised on them. Some New England dishes become favorites because they’re part of the fabric of the region, like salty air and cobblestone streets. To the people who love them, the beans have a familiar taste of molasses and smoke, and every summer picnic is better if someone brings them along.
Other iconic dishes are easier to cozy up to. A well-made fish chowder, just thick enough to stay on the spoon and brimming with our local catch, is a thing of beauty. So is a top-loaded lobster roll with its sweet meat and slightly salty buttered and toasted bun. Big squares of moist, golden cornbread can go with bowls of chowder or beans, or even with eggs the next day. Joe Frogger cookies, giant spicy, molasses rounds, made here since the 1800s, are too wonderful to be forgotten. And Jordan Marsh blueberry muffins, regular-sized or minis, managed to live on well past the moment when the now-defunct department store sold them by the dozen to eager shoppers.
You might call this regional food “cuisine strong,” because you need a certain amount of pride — and you need to know the place — to fully appreciate it.