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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- Drain and rinse.
- Put them in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to the boil, and simmer on very low heat for 30 minutes.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.