Up here, this is more properly pronounced "bean suppah"; in fact, you sometimes see it spelled this way in print materials, to emphasize its Down East-ness.
And bean suppahs, er, suppers, are extremely common in northern New England. A bean supper is exactly what ti sounds like: a thrifty meal that features Boston baked beans as them main dish, sometimes supplemented with pork, or more commonly, hot dogs. They are social affairs, designed as potlucks and often tied to some kind of fundraising event or charity. Mainers hold bean suppers to raise funds for children who face life-threatening illnesses; to gather people for an annual town meeting, in the villages that still hold them; to raise money for a church's outreach efforts; and so on. I've seen them adverised for all of these purposes, and often they are simply social gatherings as well. People getting together for a local agricultural fair (which Maine abounds in) might kick off the first night with a bean supper.
Despite the fact that I've lived here almost three years now, last Saturday was the first time that I had actually attended a bean supper. My parish has had a lobster roll supper before, which is always tied to its city's annual summer parade and festival, but this was the real thing at the Unitarian-Universalist Church in Augusta: four Crock-pots filled with beans and lots of fixings around them. The good UU people are hosting a series of bean suppers to raise funds for the statewide organization seeking to preserve gay marriage in the state, and this seems to me to be a good way of continuing a noble tradition of direct democracy combined with beans for supper.
And, as tends to be the case in a cold-weather climate where people eat to stay warm, there was an enormous amount of food: beans, of course, and hot dogs, but various salads, sides, rolls, coffee, tea, soft drinks, vegetables, cheese and crackers, fruit, and desserts. And what desserts! Though the rain has destroyed about 75% of Maine's strawberry crop, someone got strawberries and brounght them in for fresh homemade strawberry shortcake -- a treat one should only get once or twice a year, just as a reminder of how intensely good it is when it's made properly. The freshly whipped cream, the real stuff, made me swoon.
The nice part of the supper was meeting all of the good people who supported this cause. Most of the people there were members of the UU congregation, which out-hips even my own Episcopal denomination. I was impressed at how many showed up, not because they know anybody gay or lesbian (though I suppose that they must; they are Unitarians, after all). No, they were there because this is simply matter of social justice, and when it comes to doing social justice, nobody beats the Unitarians. And if can combine social justice with a really good potluck, so much the better!
So I had a pleasant time networking and meeting people and attending the talent show that followed the supper. The congregation figured that if they were going to ask for money for the supper, they would give us all our money's worth, so they arranged ofr various parishioners to sing and play guitar and piano and belt out Broadway tunes. Though the degree of talent was variable, I was, as I always am, astonished at how much talent exists in an average church congregation. One young guy -- he couldn't have been out of high school -- played original tunes on his guitar; another sang some showstoppers from Guys and Dolls; another, a folksinger in his 60s, sang some classic oldies. Maine is chock-full of talent, and I sometimes wonder why. Is it the long winters, and the fact that everybody lives in a small town? If you want a concert, you have to arrange it yourself? Not having access to the professionalism that a bigger city would offer means that folks aren't shy about singing and playing themselves? No matter. It was just a great night.