24 June 2011

Boston Baked Beans !

For me, this is the ultimate one-pot meal. I think of all those beanpots over the years simmering away in the coals by the fire, on the warming rack of the wood-fired cookstove, and now, in ovens all across New England (and beyond!). It's a recipe as old as this country ... beans, molasses, pork, and onions ... basics back in the day. The dish is so entrenched in New England's culture that countless church's host Saturday Night Bean Suppers to raise funds for their coffers, an annual 'Beanpot Tournament' has become part of the Boston collegiate hockey scene, restaurants have made their reputation on this staple of New England diet (Boston's Durgin Park, being one of them) and beanpots have become collector items in antique stores and on the Web ...

My recipe for beans comes from my mother-in-law. Jane Allbee Lindquist had a pot of beans simmering on the back of her Glenwood woodstove almost every Saturday that I knew her. Her pot wasn't that large ... I think she halved the recipe to make it easy to finish off over the weekend. Sometimes, she used maple syrup to sweeten her beans and sometimes she fell back on the original brown sugar and molasses. I have become used to using brown sugar and maple syrup, but I'm posting the original recipe today. I'm also using the smaller of my beanpots ... I've a few that I started picking up here and there for the kids. Last Christmas, I gave my son a vintage beanpot. I loaded it up with beans and spices so that Eric can make his own baked beans, now that he's out on his own. The tradition continues, you see.

Different folks have different ideas about the best beans to use in their beanpots. I prefer Maine yellow eye beans. They're a bigger bean than the more traditional white navy bean, but they have a smooth and distinct flavour - kind of sweet and starchy and their skins have more 'chew' than navy beans. They also cook up a bit faster than those little navy bean bullets because they don't seem as dense a bean. They're prettier to look at, too. Just sayin'. Unfortunately, I used all the yellow eyes that were grown last year, so I have navy beans for today's batch of baked beans... and that will be just fine.

Whatever beans you choose, you must soak them in cold clear water overnight and then parboil them until the skins begin to pop. Then, you drain them and pop them in the beanpot to sit for a bit while you gather your fixin's. Today, I used black pepper encrusted bacon, maple syrup, brown sugar, dry mustard, baking soda, salt, dried parsley, and a chopped onion. Yum. The house smells wonderful right now!

Now, purists may have a problem with using bacon over salt pork, but it's all about taste. I prefer using bacon. Some folks use ketchup in their bean recipe and I would never consider it, but I won't say that's wrong. It's just different. Some folks even put a bit of pineapple in their beans ... not wrong, just different! That's what cooking is all about ... making a recipe your own. Variations are what keep the cooking world moving along!

Whatever you choose to put in your beans is just fine with me! However, you will have to top them off with boiling water and put them in a really slow oven - 250°F maximum. They need to cook gently for a few hours. I usually check them after an hour and add a bit more water, cover them back up and walk away for another couple hours. I find three to four hours is usually enough. Then, I leave the cover off the pot so the juices cook down and thicken into a sweet sauce. Turn the oven off, put the cover back on, and wait until you want to eat or until your other dishes are ready to serve. Put a warm beanpot on the table and enjoy one of New England's best dishes.

Boston Baked Beans

Serves 4

2 c. beans - washed, picked over, and soaked in cold water overnight
¼ lb. piece of salt pork or 4 slices of bacon
2½ tbsp. brown sugar
2½ tbsp. molasses
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. dry mustard
boiling water and black pepper

Making the Beans:

1. Cover the clean beans with cold water and soak overnight.

2. In the morning, drain beans, place them in a saucepan. and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down. Simmer for about ten minutes ( the skin will pop open if you put one on a spoon and blow on it.).

3. Place the hot beans in your beanpot.

4. Measure in the onion, spices and sugars … and leave them on top of the beans.

5. Place the salt pork or bacon on top of all.

6. Boil some water on top of the stove and pour enough water over the beans and pork to just cover them. Pepper the salt pork well.

7. Put the cover on the pot, set the oven to 225°F, and leave it for about five hours.

8. Check the beans every hour or so to make sure they don’t boil dry. When the water level drops so that it’s not bubbling up through the beans, add just a bit from the teapot.

9. After four hours or so, taste some of the beans to check if they’re done and turn the oven down to 200° F. – let them finish at this lower temperature.

10. Leave in the pot to keep warm until you want to eat … or until the other dishes are ready to serve.

Note: You can add numerous things to baked beans like:

- chopped onion
- chopped jalapeño pepper
- minced pieces of carrot
- chopped pieces of ham
- cut up hotdogs
- a squirt of ketchup on top
- maple syrup instead of the molasses and sugar


  1. Ha! I just made baked beans and will be posting them too! How funny is that! Your beans look delicious!

    Thanks for the additional info on the Fiddleheads BTW.

  2. @ Anon - Well, these beans are definitely egg-less! Thanks for the information!

  3. Hate to burst your bubble, but this recipe, and indeed so-called "Boston Baked Beans," are NOT "as old as this country." Its origins are actually in the Victorian period of the late 19th century, a time of reviving what people merely thought SHOULD be colonial. Yes, there are plenty of recipes for beans in true colonial-era cookbooks, but they are much simpler, with fewer ingredients (no molasses or sugar, for instance). There's currently a great article with bean recipes (one from 1747 and one from 1881) online (www.boston.com) about two authors discussing this very thing. I'll see if I can share it here.

  4. @ Carolina - No bubbles involved! In my research, I got back as far as early 1800's booklet with a published 'baked beans' recipe ... and sorry, knowing people's penchant for sweetness I am convinced that it didn't take long for cheap molasses or maple syrup to make it into the mix and 'evolve' the recipe into the various regional mixes that are so prevalent today ... so I'm not feeling bad about the post. I welcome the link, though! It is very cool to have an historical culinary source (that's you!) checking out the blog! Thank you, Carolina!

  5. I love your beanpot, it's so pretty! I went to college in Boston and remember the beanpot championships for hockey quite fondly :) Thanks for sharing your baked beans recipe and sending me on a trip down memory lane!

  6. This is pretty much the same Boston Baked Bean recipe I use. I don't think I use baking soda but I will have to take a look. I love baked beans with natural casing franks on the side. Oh, I love your bean pot.

  7. What, do you suppose, is the purpose of using baking soda instead of just adding some salt. I'm sure there is some culinary trick I'm missing here.

  8. @ Kay - Jane said, "takes some of the gas outta the beans so it doesn't get into you!" I don't know that I believed her, but I honor her recipe, just the same.

  9. How wonderful. I am going to try this for sure!

  10. Wow! Whilst obviously I've heard of this dish I've never actually cooked or eaten it but what can be wrong about it? ... Beans ... Check... Pork... Check... Sugar ... Check... Slow-cooked... Check... And as for history... Pah! You're making you're own history with your fabulous blog! Xx

  11. My Mom used to make baked beans when I was growing up and I absolutely loved them. I've never made them myself though from scratch. It's something I've always wanted to try. There's nothing like homemade baked beans!!!

  12. Hey, Susan! Well, of course, now I'm curious. And, as usual, I have oodles of burning questions! What "early 1800s booklet" is it that you found? What's the title, author, publisher, location, etc.? Is it a "true" cookbook, or merely a compilation of "old" recipes? And/or ones that've been adapted 'n "modernized"? Inquiring minds wanna know! (or at least mine, especially since it LOVES to hunt down historic cookbooks and their content)

  13. @ Carolina - Hey! The book was a small housewife's companion called The American Frugal Housewife. It was originally published in 1828, but the version I have is a copy of its 12th printing Carter, Hendee, and Company are listed as publishers and the date for the 12 th printing says 1833 in Boston. It is a reproduction of the original book printed by Applewood Books , Bedford, MA. Lydia Maria Child is the authoress ... her treatment for beans can be found on page 51 and has no sweetening agent, only pepper and pork. Blecch!

  14. I love reading about traditions and dishes that are foreign to me...like this magnificent dish of yours!! What is "everyday" for some, can be a complete novelty for others...I think this is why we blog!


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