BAR HARBOR — Whether or not beans are a musical fruit, an estimated 150 people turned up at the annual Mount Desert Island Historical Society bean supper Monday to have some.
The seventh annual event was held in the MDI High School cafeteria. Diners were treated to a baked bean buffet from area cooks, complete with sides of brown bread and hot dogs.
“Beans are a real traditional food,” historical society director Tim Garrity said. “They hit their popularity during the Second World War when there was food rationing. They were an inexpensive and plentiful source of protein. It’s been built into the culture for many generations.”
Baked beans lined both sides of a table in the middle of the room. Some came in slow cookers, others in more traditional stoneware bean pots. Each vessel was marked by a note card reading the ingredients. Most of the chefs preferred traditional ingredients; salt pork, bacon and molasses were the most common additions.
After everyone had been served, historical society curator Rachel Snell led a discussion about local food traditions with a panel of cooks and farmers.
Amanda Kendall of Sassafras Catering said there is more farming on MDI now than there was when she started her business.
“The quality of farming here on this island is pretty impressive,” Kendall said. “I would have to drive off the island [in the past] to get key ingredients. It’s an economy that’s growing here, and it’s an amazing thing to bring back into our community.”
She said she works to create menus focused on seasonal local produce, and it can be a challenge to get customers to think beyond lobster and blueberries.
“I’m looking for creative and new ways to share [Maine produce] with people,” she said.
Pesticide use increased yields on local farms mid-century, said C.J. Walke of College of the Atlantic’s Peggy Rockefeller Farms, but was also detrimental to the quality of the soil. He said he is noticing a shift away from pesticides toward maintaining healthy growing conditions for crops. Walke also is an orchard educator with the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association.
Local seafood has long been an inspiration for Mount Desert Elementary School cook Emily Damon, who also works as the chef at the Islesford Dock in the summer. She has a long family history of lobster fishing and some favorite family cookbooks, too, dating to the 1930s.
“I went away to San Francisco, but when I came back, I got my feet wet [using local produce] here,” she said.
“Conservation is so important,” Damon said. “In Islesford, we get our lobsters from the coop, but it’s difficult to get a fresh fish off a boat.”
She said it’s important for families to cook together. Some in the audience remembered helping cook in the school cafeteria when they were young, but Damon said liability rules now make that all but impossible.
On the plus side, fruit and vegetables are now grown in many school gardens.
In addition to raising funds for the MDI Historical Society, Garrity said, “these suppers are a core part of what make a community. This is our chance to provide a warm meal during the winter.”