Why Is Boston Called Beantown

Why Is Boston Called “Beantown”?


It’s not uncommon for big cities in the U.S. to go by more than one nickname. New York is the Big Apple and the City That Never Sleeps, New Orleans is the Big Easy and Crescent City, and Miami is the Magic City and 305. The same rule applies for Boston, Massachusetts. Over the years the city has been given many monikers, including America’s Walking Citythe Athens of America, the Cradle of Liberty, and the Hub. Yet, arguably the most widely known nickname is “Beantown.” While not altogether popular among Bostonians, it’s one that has stuck, especially with tourists. Here’s the story behind how Boston came to be called “Beantown.”

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It Started With Native Americans

Baked beans in a skillet
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Before digging any deeper, the simple answer is that “Beantown” refers to the local popularity of baked beans. This worldwide dish has many variations, with the Boston version being navy or white pea beans sweetened with molasses and baked on a low heat for several hours. But how did it become so highly regarded in New England? The first people to prepare this meal are believed to be Native Americans. Instead of molasses, they used maple syrup, and added bear fat to create the sauce. Venison, fish, and corn may have been added for extra flavor, too. The mixture was placed inside earthenware pots and cooked underground using hot rocks.

English Colonists Continued the Tradition

Brick oven with fire inside
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In 1620, the Puritans (a.k.a. the Pilgrims) arrived from England and established the Plymouth Colony in what is now southeastern Massachusetts. They learned how to make baked beans from the area’s Native Americans, eventually adapting the recipe to suit their own tastes and make use of the ingredients available to them. With settlers struggling to cultivate the land, beans were a household staple throughout New England from the 17th to early 20th centuries. Pilgrims observed the religious practice of Sabbath and didn’t work or prepare hot meals on Sunday. So, on Saturdays, baked beans were prepared and left overnight in still-hot brick ovens to eat the following day for breakfast.

Two notable changes the Pilgrims made to the Native American recipe was replacing maple syrup with molasses and bear fat with salt pork. This combination is what later became known as Boston baked beans. Sailors and traders arriving in Boston were said to have been amazed by the popularity of beans — the nickname “Beantown” was born.