(Recipe) My Mother’s Saturday Night Homemade Baked Beans

Beans good for homemade baked beans

Yellow-eyed beans, uncooked

Intro: I promised the recipe for my mother’s homemade baked beans. Here it is. Now, if your family’s recipe is better, we all want to know.


Amount: Makes enough for a six-cup bean pot.

2 cups beans.

My mother used to say that yellow-eyed beans were best.  But she could never get them out West, so she used navy beans (also traditional) or a mixture of navy, kidney, and pinto beans (not traditional at all, but good).

If you want to use a full pound of beans, which is just a little more than 2 cups, no problem.  I use less because my bean pot isn’t big enough to hold that much.

1/2 cup molasses.

Not blackstrap.  You want the label to say “fancy” or “mild.” Mom liked Crosby’s Fancy Molasses.  In the States, if I can’t find Crosby’s, I use Grandma’s or Brer Rabbit. All are just fine.

You could substitute pure maple syrup. In fact, amber maple syrup is wonderful in beans. It’s just darned expensive.

Don’t substitute maple-flavored pancake syrup.

Some people add a little brown sugar too. I have no idea why.

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon dry mustard

Look for mustard powder in the spice section of your supermarket. I like Colman’s mustard–just because the yellow metal tin is charming. Mustard lasts forever. If you mix it with water, you can make blazingly hot mustard, good for egg rolls.

1 small, whole onion, peeled

4 ounces salt pork.

Your supermarket probably stocks this, even if you’ve never noticed it there before. Here in Saratoga, I buy it in a 12 ounce package, good for 3 pots of beans. It keeps forever in the fridge, which is good, because I don’t make beans often.

In my opinion, neither the salt pork nor the onion tastes good cooked in beans. But they contribute greatly to the flavor of the beans, and they are definitely traditional. You could substitute bacon, but remember, it won’t get crisp cooking in a pot of beans. In my vegetarian phases, I have substituted a stick of butter, which is delicious.

1/4 cup ketchup, optional

My mother felt daring when she added ketchup. She felt it was her own idea though I’ve seen quite a few old recipes that include it. (Sorry, Mom.)

Some old recipes suggest a pinch of baking soda to make the beans softer, quicker. But I’ve read that it destroys nutrients, and you don’t really need it


Beans are not a last minute affair.  Ideally you’ll start the evening before although you can begin early in the morning that you want to serve them. I’ll explain how below.

  1. Spread the beans on a light-colored plate or tray, a handful at a time, to look for & discard stones, stems, or damaged beans. Cover the beans with water.  Throw away anything that floats. Swish the beans around to get them clean. Drain.
  2. Soak the beans overnight in plenty of water. (If you forget that, put them in a pot, add water to cover by 3 or 4 inches, bring to a boil, turn off the heat, and let them sit for an hour.)
  3. Drain and rinse.
  4. Put them in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to the boil, and simmer on very low heat for 30 minutes.
  5. In the bottom of the bean pot, put onion and the salt pork. I cut into the pork down to the rind in two or three places.  Add the beans, salt and pepper, molasses, mustard, and ketchup (if you’re using it).
  6. The beans should be covered by about 1/4” to 1/2” of water. If it’s not, add a little boiling water. Put the lid on.
  7. Put in a 300℉ oven. Cook about 8 hours. Every hour or two, check the water level. If the beans are not covered with liquid, add a little boiling water. Don’t add any liquid in the last half hour or so.  You want the liquid to get dark and thick. By the time you serve the beans, they should be just barely covered with liquid.

You can cook beans in a crock pot or a covered casserole instead of a bean pot, but the beans may not be quite as dark and delicious.

The water will evaporate quicker in a casserole; you’ll have to keep a sharp eye on it. It  will evaporate more slowly in a crock pot. Be careful not to add too much liquid.

Beans freeze beautifully.


Homemade Baked Beans

Baked Beans

We ate baked beans every Saturday night. It was all because my family was from New Brunswick, on the East coast of Canada. As far as I know, every person in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island used to eat baked beans on Saturday night.  In New England too. I would bet good money that many people Down East still do.

My mother said she made beans because it was convenient. We could go shopping on Saturday and not have to worry about cooking dinner.  The beans were already in the oven.

But I knew the truth. It was tradition.

It didn’t matter whether we still lived in New Brunswick.  It didn’t matter whether we wanted beans that Saturday night.  If it was Saturday, beans were what we were going to eat.

Personally, I thought beans were a boring excuse for a meal. Adding hot dogs or fish cakes and biscuits or homemade bread didn’t particularly help.

I dreaded the years my birthday fell on a Saturday. Birthday cake–and beans!

Washing the bean pot was on my list of most-dreaded chores.  My sister and I took turns washing the dishes, and each of us, day by day, decided the pot needed to soak a little longer.  Saturday morning would come and my mother would hit the roof because the bean pot was full of smelly, funky water with a few of last week’s beans still clinging to the sides.

My mother was proud of her beans. And for some reason, other people liked them too. I think it was just because Westerners thought that beans came out of a Heinz can. They praised her beans to the sky.  They stopped by on a Saturday afternoon, hoping to be invited for supper. They knew she always cooked enough to feed everyone on the north side of town.

All I could think was, “For heaven’s sake, I wish they wouldn’t encourage her!”

When I grew up and left home, I stopped thinking about baked beans, unless I was visiting my family–and Saturday night rolled around.

And in my own home, I didn’t make or eat homemade beans.

The first time my mother came to visit me, she made herself at home in my kitchen.  I heard the sounds of clashing pots. After a few minutes, she came to me, puzzled.

“Margaret,” she said. “Where do you keep your bean pot?”

“I don’t have one,” I replied.

My mother thought about that for several seconds.

“Well then,” she said, “How do you make beans?”

And I replied with the answer that left her flabbergasted.

“I don’t.”

Years and years passed.  I reached the age of nostalgia. I began to long, just a little, for real homemade baked beans. I even began to long for a bean pot of my very own.

In an antique shop in western New York state, one of those cluttered, junky, dusty, dirt-cheap antique shops, I spotted a small bean pot. Chubby, brown on top, cream on the bottom. The right colors, the right shape, the right kind of handles, the right lid.

“That would be just the right size,” I thought. And I bought it.

Since then, every once in a long while, I make baked beans. I know how. I’d watched my mother hundreds of times.  I’d made them myself too.  Reluctantly, to be sure, but I’d made them.

Mine are never quite as good as hers.

She never used a recipe, didn’t need to.  But I’ve tried to guesstimate the amounts for the beans she made, just in case you or my children or my grandchildren develop a craving for beans, New Brunswick style.

I’ll test it one more time and post it for you tomorrow or the next day.



Intro: I have to admit…I used to think the Greek & Roman myths colossally boring. The originals must have been so much better than the watered-down versions I was reading. I decided to retell a very old translation of Ovid’s “Arachne”  in contemporary (thought still formal) language. It’s not my usual style, but give it a try anyway.  It’s a humdinger of a story.

Once there was a man named Idmon, from the land of Lydia, east of the Aegean Sea. Though of humble birth, he became renowned for the purple dyes that he used to color fine wool and linen. He married, but his wife died not long after the birth of their daughter.

As it turned out, the abilities of the father, though great, were trifling compared to those of his daughter. She became a weaver. And so extraordinary was her talent, and so devoted was she to her craft, that she was famous not only throughout Lydia, but in all the neighboring countries as well. And not to mortals only. Even the nymphs and naiads came from hillsides and streams to admire both the finished tapestries and the skill with which she practiced her craft: the way she drew the design, wound yarn into balls, turned the spindle, threw the shuttle between the threads of the warp.

Surely her talent was a gift from Athena, the goddess of weaving although the young woman bristled at the suggestion:

“Athena? Nonsense! I have worked hard and long to master my craft. Never once have I asked her for help. Never once has she stopped by to offer any. How strange that she now expects recognition from me! Truly no one, not even Athena, weaves as well as I.”

The girl continued: “Understandable. She’s no doubt busy with other chores, being goddess of wisdom, pottery, shipbuilding and heaven knows what else. As for me, I have one talent, one craft. And I devote my life to it.”

Whenever she spoke words like these, a shudder rattled the bones of everyone who heard her. Such disrespect for the goddess. Such arrogance. And heaven help the person who dared suggest she should be indebted to the goddess for her talents. For the girl would cast a withering eye in the offender’s direction and spew out a torrent of more angry words, ending with a taunt:

“Let the goddess come—if she cares and if she dares—and we will have a contest. I’ll accept my fate if I lose. For I cannot.”

As you all well know, it’s a dangerous mistake to challenge a goddess, especially a goddess as powerful and proud as Athena. The goddess herself appeared before the weaver, disguised as an old, frail woman with silver-gray hair, bent over, hobbling with a cane. Her voice cracked with age:

“My dear girl. Please, listen to the advice of an old woman. Your extraordinary skills are not due to diligence alone. The aptitude of your fingers, eyes, and mind for weaving are gifts you received from the goddess Athena. Ask forgiveness of her for your arrogant words. She will surely respond with kindness.”

The proud young woman only stopped her spindle long enough to wheel to face the old woman and say:

“You babbling old fool! It’s easy to see from your words that you’ve lived too long. If you’d like to give worthless advice to someone, perhaps you have a wayward daughter who will listen to you, or a lame-brained niece. As for me, I have work to do. Tell your goddess, don’t bother to send senile old women to chat. Tell her to come herself to challenge me any time. I’m ready.”

And the girl turned back to her work. In the next moment, the bent old woman had disappeared and the goddess showed herself in her true form. She towered high above the girl and glowed with a heavenly light. Only the briefest blush showed on the girl’s face at the transformation. The time for kindly advice and forgiveness was over. The challenge was accepted.

This would be a contest worthy of the gods. Straightaway, both Athena and the girl prepared their looms. Each tied the delicate but strong threads of the warp, using hollow canes to space the threads perfectly. They threw the shuttle across to form the woof so rapidly the eye could scarcely follow. And quickly, expertly, each drew the comb-like sly down upon each row. Horizontally, vertically each stitch was perfectly spaced, one row after another.

And, oh, the consummate artistry of the designs. Those magnificent designs! And the colors! The many shades of rose, green, purple, and gold. Close up, the people watching could not distinguish differences, so close was one shade to the next, but from a little distance, the designs appeared, one color blending imperceptibly into the next. The stories in the weaving took shape.

Athena depicted the contest between her and Poseidon for the naming of the city of Athens. There, in the middle, was Zeus in all his glory, surrounded by the other gods. And above was the olive tree, the gift that won the contest for her, so that Athens was named for her. Round it all were olive leaves. And as a warning to this impetuous girl, she wove a story in each of the four corners of the tapestry. Mortal women who challenged the gods could expect to be punished by losing their human form. In one corner, a woman was changed to a crane, in another to a stork. In a third to mountains, in the last, girls changed to marble steps.

But the girl boldly wove a design no less intricate and brilliant in her own tapestry. And the stories woven in the threads? Here were Zeus and Poseidon and other gods, all changed in form, to bull or stallion or ram, to eagle, or swan, or fowl, to flame or stream or liquid gold, to satyr or shepherd, dolphin or snake. All raping innocent mortal women, all abusing the power of the gods. (Around the border, she wove flowers and ivy.)

How scandalous the scenes, how insulting to the gods. Athena cried out:

“Arachne! How dare you!”

The goddess took her spindle and struck the girl across her forehead more than once. And whether Athena was angry at the insult woven in the threads or whether she was angry that a mortal’s skill was equal to her own, I don’t know.

In the next moment, Arachne ran for a coil of rope nearby and hanged herself. And whether she was furious at the injustice she supposed was done to her or whether she felt shame at the immensity of her grievous offense, I don’t know.

But Athena did not let her die. Instead she sprinkled her with the magical juices of the aconite plant and Arachne was restored to life. Her long, golden hair fell off her head. Her fingers stretched into many scrawny legs. Her head shrank towards her body, and her body shriveled and darkened until nothing was left but a shell for a bag of thread that she and her descendants, the spiders, those master weavers, must spin forevermore.

And whether Athena let her live out of pity—or an impulse of dark revenge to punish her and her descendants forever, that, also, I do not know.


Copyright by Margaret French

The Gopher Museum


(If you’d like to watch the YouTube video, click here.)

My mother and I shared a passion for hokey things.  Happily, Alberta, where she lived, has more giant, hokey roadside attractions per capita than any place on earth.

Together, she and I saw the giant honeybee, stalk of corn, cowboy boot, oil derrick, and beer can.

We saw the world’s largest decorated Ukrainian Easter Egg in Vegreville.  It’s a seventy-five foot engineering marvel constructed of thousands of colored aluminum triangles (and a few rhombi). It honors the centennial of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  (I’m not sure how.)

We’ve had our picture taken beside the forty-two foot kielbasa sausage near the Stawnichy Meat Processing Plant in Mundare.

We’ve traveled to the twenty-five foot concrete statue of a pyrogy (a potato dumpling) pierced by a giant dinner fork.  Across the street, in the window of a little chinese restaurant, we liked the sign, “We sell Canadian pyrogies and Chinese pyrogies.”

We’ve traveled to Drumheller, home of the Alberta badlands, piles of dinosaur bones, and the prestigious Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology. People there decided they needed more, a sure-fire tourist attraction. So they built the world’s largest T-Rex. It’s eighty-six feet tall, four times the size of a real dinosaur. I’ve climbed up the stairs in her neck and took pictures of the badlands between her giant teeth.

But by the time Mom was ninety, her traveling days were almost over. Her heart and kidneys were failing. She was legally blind and painfully arthritic. Her short term memory was shot. But she still loved to travel, wanted to travel.  My sister-in-law Patti and I decided to take Mom on one more road trip, to the world famous Gopher Hole Museum in Torrington.

Mom seemed confused about our destination but no less eager to pack and hit the road. We stopped for lunch in Red Deer, a couple of hours south of

Edmonton. Mom ordered the clam chowder.  When it was served, she stirred it a  bit, looking for clams.  She couldn’t find any. She whispered loudly to us, how down east where she was born, you could get a decent bowl of clam chowder. The waitress came to refill our coffee mugs.

“Miss,” she spoke up. “I can’t find any clams in my clam chowder.”

The young waitress didn’t bat an eye.

“Oh,” she said sweetly, “We never put clams in our clam chowder.” And she left to wait on another table.

My mother could barely control herself.

“No clams in the clam chowder?” she sputtered. “I never heard of such a thing!”

And she was still complaining about the chowder later that day when we pulled into Torrington, population eighty-six.

Granny fire hydrant

We knew we were in the right place. A giant twelve foot gopher named Clem T. GoFur greeted us in the park, and all eleven fire hydrants were painted to look like gophers too.

The museum itself looks like it was once a country schoolhouse. I don’t know what I’d expected to see, perhaps historical documents related to the farmers’ long struggles against this prairie pest, or the life cycle of the Richardson ground squirrel. (Technically, they’re not really gophers at all.)

I was in for a surprise. If ever there was a museum in bad taste, if ever there was a politically incorrect museum, this was it. I gotta say…we loved it.

In Torrington, dozens of gophers are stuffed, dressed, and placed in dioramas. There is a beauty parlor with gopher customers and a gopher beautician.  A church with a gopher congregation and a gopher minister. Gopher cowboys and gopher Indians. Gopher covered wagons.  Gopher Royal Canadian Mounted Policemen.

My favorite is the gopher mayor fighting with the gopher hippie over a chipmunk.  The gopher hippie holds a sign saying G.A.G.S. (Gophers against getting stuffed.)

We described to my mother all the wonders that she could not see. I asked the docent if she had souvenirs for sale.  I was hoping for a tee-shirt that said something like, “I survived the Gopher Hole Museum in Torrington, Alberta.”

No such luck.  She did let us read and sign the guest book. Amazing how many people from how many countries had traveled to this out-of-the-way community on the Alberta prairie. My sister-in-law still chuckles over the comment, “Free the Rodents!”

Someone else from eastern Europe had written,

“I think it’s just terrible what you did to those poor little rats!”

My mother was contemptuous:

“Rats? They’re not rats.  They’re gophers!  You’d think a person would know the difference between a rat and a gopher!”

As I recall, she didn’t express any sympathy for the creatures, whatever they were. She wasn’t that kind of woman.

The docent chatted with us for awhile.  She told us that the people in town and from nearby farms get together in the winter to discuss what dioramas they’ll add the following spring.  They decide who will sew the costumes and make the furniture and scenery.

“We can’t use roadkill,” she added, helpfully.

I thought about it.  Made sense.

We headed to a motel for the night to rest before our drive home the next day. To be honest, I don’t think my mother remembered a whole lot about the trip or the museum.  But to her dying day, one scene was etched in her failing memory. She told everyone who would listen, over and over again:

“We stopped at a restaurant for lunch. I ordered clam chowder, but I couldn’t find any clams. The waitress told me they never put clams in their clam chowder.  Can you believe it?! I never heard of such a thing!

Ice-cream for everyone on the way home

No clams in the clam chowder!”



Just so you know, some other giant roadside attractions in Alberta are a trumpeter swan, a bighorn Ram, a peace dove, a freedom-loving pig, a blue heron, a goose, a beaver, an antelope, a moose, a bison, a skunk, crows, a walleye, a mosquito, a mallard duck, a swan protecting her nest from a grizzly, a mushroom, dancing potatoes, a sunflower, a Pinto Bean, a brown-eyed susan, a pumpkin,  a crown, a cream can, a milk bottle, a lamp, a piggy bank, a badminton racket, a softball, a baseball bat, a golf putter, 100’ survey markers, a giant wind gauge, a sundial, a weather vane, giant pincers, a chuckwagon, a saddle bronc and rider, a wagon wheel, a cowboy, a brahma bull, and a 215’ teepee. And I almost forgot–a UFO landing pad and a Vulcan space ship with greetings in English, Vulcan, and Klingon.

And you thought Alberta was just Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper, the Calgary Stampede, a really big shopping mall, and oil fields.


Copyright by Margaret French