Of Baked Beans and Blueberry Bang Belly


Last week baked beans filled this spot, and a query went out for a dish named Blueberry Bang Belly. I wasn’t too surprised when I heard back about beans, because Mainers can be downright dogmatic about them.

One writer said the column wasn’t worth reading because there was no mention of Marafax but that’s because he didn’t go past the first paragraph. He said that Marafax were always used in the lumber camps, but I had at least one baked bean writer say his grandfather cooked in the camps and “always” used yellow eye. So there you go.

To be truthful, I was surprised at not hearing more about Marafax from readers who sent baked bean recipes. Marafax are a personal favorite of mine, and I grow them. Such a lovely bean! I recall that State of Maine always had them—twenty years ago—along with Yellow Eyes, Jacob’s Cattle and Soldier, and I was heartbroken when they stopped selling them. I found them once in a store in Machias and stocked up. The Coop in Belfast has them from time to time. And I suppose that there may be bean growers who make them available locally.

Which brings us to Scott Clark who runs a sporting camp in Kenduskeag. Scott bakes bean hole beans every week, uses Yellow Eyes, and gets them from a local guy, Sherwood MegQuiers in Corinth. (Sherwood can be found on Facebook). There must be others like MegQuiers in Maine who treasure our bean tradition and grow them to sell to neighbors.

One reader asked for a baked bean recipe with no salt pork in it. I would recommend just leaving the salt pork out of the recipe we gave last week. You can add a shake of Worcestershire or soy sauce, and a couple tablespoons of olive oil or sesame seed oil to make up for the salt pork, if you want.

Dot Mead in Southwest Harbor wrote to say that she has been baking beans according to a recipe very like the one we had last week which she found in a 1912 edition of Fannie Farmer’s cookbook. She, too, has been adapting her recipe for vegetarians in her life and misses the salt pork. Dot, who prefers Jacob’s Cattle beans, plans to celebrate her 93rd birthday in April by baking a pot full.

The Blueberry Bang Belly recipe query from Deb (whose husband from The County remembered it and hankered for some), brought two quick responses from internet-savvy readers who turned to Google right away. Now I love Google as well as the next person but I always hope to hear from people who have family recipes and memories to go with them. What the Google search turned up was a couple of references to the Canadian Maritimes and to Cape Breton in particular. That sent me scurrying to my former mother-in-law’s recipe collection. Charlotte MacMillan was from Port Hawkesbury on Cape Breton and I crossed my fingers for a bang belly recipe. Alas. I also turned to Marie Nightingale’s 1975 Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens. There were blueberry cake, pancake, muffin, wine, and grunt recipes—no bang belly.

That leaves us with one recipe from somewhere in the Maritimes found on the internet, from a site whose home page seems to be missing, and which attributes the recipe to Mrs. Heloise Williston. As I suspected, the bang belly seems to be a first cousin to grunts and slumps which are essentially biscuit dough dropped over stewed fruit and steamed in a pan just as one would prepare dumplings on stew. The bang belly variation calls for stewing the fruit, then topping with rolled biscuit dough and baking it, just as Deb’s husband recalled.

Now this recipe may not help Deb much either because there are so many ways to make biscuit dough: more or less shortening, variations in the kind of shortening—butter versus margarine versus solid vegetable shortening. This recipe doesn’t call for sweetening the dough, but that is another thing you can do, as you might for shortcake. You can also make quick job of it by using premixed biscuit mix.

Here then is Mrs. Williston’s Blueberry Bang Belly.

Mrs. Williston’s Blueberry Bang Belly
  • Filling:
  • 4 cups blueberries
  • 1 ½ cups sugar (or less if desired)
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • Topping
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ⅔ cup butter or shortening
  • ½ cup milk
  1. Combine the blueberries, sugar, and flour in a saucepan.
  2. Cook together until the mixture bubbles.
  3. Spread the filling in a greased 9 by 13 inch cake pan.
  4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  5. In a bowl, whisk or stir together the flour, salt, and baking powder.
  6. Cut in the shortening until the flour looks like coarse corn meal.
  7. Add the milk and stir until the dough forms a ball.
  8. Flour a board lightly and roll the dough out about a half inch thick or slightly less, sufficient to cover the berries, and lay on top of the blueberry mixture.
  9. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
  10. Cut in squares and serve from pan.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.