“In Saginaw, in Saginaw, The wind blows up your feet, When the ladies' guild puts on a feed, There's beans on every plate,”
--From "The Saginaw Song," a poem by the Theodore Roethke
You may have guessed the main ingredient in this week’s recipe – dried beans.
In the July 29, 1959, issue of The New Yorker magazine, writer Philip Hamburger described his visit to Saginaw. Rather than focusing on the community as a production center for automotive components, he opened with the following:
“ALT., 593. Pop. 92,918. When you talk Saginaw, you talk beans. Millions of beans. At any time, there approximately six hundred and sixty million beans in the tall storage elevators of the Michigan Bean Company on the west side of Saginaw, across from the east side of Saginaw, where the business district lies. Six hundred and sixty million beans are lot of beans. [The Saginaw News calculated the capacity of the elevator as being much greater and that it could hold 31,500,000,000 beans.] ”
The Michigan Bean Company elevator was originally constructed for Saginaw Milling Company in 1915. The reinforced concrete elevator was located on Niagara street south of East Genesee and was over 180 feet in height. It 1955 it became part of Wickes Corporation. When completed, it was claimed that it was the tallest bean elevator in the United States.
The article notes:
“The Michigan Bean People do not lose interest in a bean once it leaves their storage elevators. To them beans are a way of life. They spend a good deal of time at Michigan Bean trying to figure out ways of increasing per-capita bean consumption in the United States.”
The Saginaw News reported on the varied and creative ways that Michigan Bean Company
worked to promote Michigan-grown beans – especially the firm’s own Jack Rabbit brand. In 1955 the company had samples of their products sent to each of the 435 members of the United States Congress. Michigan Bean Company was not alone its promotional efforts. At the annual Saginaw County Farm Bureau picnic, a bean cook-off was an important feature. According to the Saginaw News, the organization’s August 18, 1960 picnic included judging of bean dishes at 11:30 a.m. “[C]ompetition was “in four divisions, Baked beans sweetened, baked beans with tomatoes; bean salads, and bean novelties such as bread cake, puddings, fired cakes, pies and candy.”
Michigan Bean Company installed the neon Jack Rabbit logo on the structure in 1947. Earlier, the building had supported a lighted sign in the form of the United States flag.
Dried beans remain an important agricultural product in this region. We will explore their importance to Saginaw County in an exhibit at the museum next summer and – of course – in future recipes.
The Recipe: Tailgate Baked Beans
From Empty Nest Eats as Prepared by the Castle Test Kitchen
4 bacon strips, chopped
2 hot Italian turkey sausage links, casings removed and crumbled
1 medium onion, diced
4 cans (15.5 oz) great northern beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/3 cup ketchup
1/3 cup packed, dark brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
3 tablespoons stone ground or country-style mustard
2 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 ½ teaspoons hot pepper sauce e.g. Franks or Tabasco
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
On the stove top, over medium heat, cook bacon in a Dutch oven or a large pot until crispy. Remove the bacon and drain on paper towels.
Add the crumbled sausage and diced onion to the Dutch oven/pot and cook over medium heat until the onions are translucent, and the sausage is no longer pink. Drain excess fat if necessary.
Return the bacon to the dutch oven and stir in remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil.
Place in oven; bake, covered 50-60 minutes to allow flavors to blend.