Beanhole Beans

About Beanhole Beans

Beanhole Beans are a great Maine culinary tradition, legend has it that the Native tribes in Maine (who selected and improved our local beans over thousands of years of cultivation) taught the Europeans how to cook beans in holes dug into the ground. They would build a fire in the hole, make a huge bed of coals, put a pot of soaked beans on the coals, and cover it all up with earth. In a day’s time they’d come back and the coals would still be hot and the beans would be cooked.  This ended up being a staple of the lumberjacks as they drove logs down the rivers to the mills out of the north woods. The cook would go a day ahead of the log drive and bury a pot of beans in the riverbank, and it would be ready for the riverdrivers when they arrived.

The extra layer of the song is this: as I understand it, when Molly Gawler and Lao Gillam got married a few years back, Lao decided to buy Molly a Bob Childs Fiddle as a wedding present. He told John all about it but told him not to tell anyone about it, and John said okay, we won’t spill the beans before the wedding. So he wrote this song as a reminder to himself not to spill the beans. Later, he made a big pot of beanhole beans for the wedding ceremony and everyone enjoyed ‘em.

This is one of my favorite examples of a new worksong. Here’s why:

  • It blends the classic call and response format that has evolved to work so well in labor situations with mixed crews… so anyone who doesn’t know the song can easily find their place in it.
  • Melody is simple and stepwise but bluesy, easy to catch but doesn’t get dull once you start playing.
  • Easy to find harmonies over a simple melody like that.  But they can get gritty and dirty if you want it.
  • The format of a question “Do you like to” is great, very easy to improvise more questions because all you actually have to improvise is what you’re putting in the beans.
  • Rooted in the history of the people using the song 
  • What’s more it’s connected to culinary history, how great is that!
  • It is celebratory, always good to celebrate.