Mom's Baked Beans
I grew up in the era of the slow cooker.
Everyone had one of these crocks kicking around in their kitchen cupboard and when I finally moved out and started making my way in the world in tiny little apartments all over Boston one of the first things my Mom bought me was a crock pot of my own. I still have the one she gave me over 20 years ago.
A few years ago husband was ordering a gift for me from some company and they gave us a crock pot as a freebie gift. Not much has changed in the intervening years, in fact they still come with the cutesy floral pattern on the side. What's the matter, in this day of Nate Berkus, Michael Graves and Isaac Mizrahi why hasn't anyone made the crock pot hip?
I don't use it all the time, but every fall and winter when there are gardens to put to bed, leaves to be raked and long snowy walks to take there is something very homey about starting something cooking when I first rise and having the smell permeate the house all day.
My Mom cooks picnic shoulder in hers and makes boiled dinner or chicken stews loaded with sausage and chilies, but in my family we all use it to make baked beans.
Sure, we have a bean pot, doesn't everyone in New England? But that bean pot only really gets used up in Maine. Mostly that is because the power craps out about twice a day, usually in perfectly clear stormless weather. We have yet to solve that mystery.
Since my teaching brings me home rather late in the middle of the week, I wanted to make some things to stock up the freezer so that husband or I could easily pull something and heat it for dinner.
My husband, as you probably know by now, is a Brit. His bean of choice? Heinz baked beans out of a tin. Preferably the Heinz from the U.K., served for some inexplicable reason, on toast.
I can't even get him to put a single one of my Mom's beans in his mouth.
Not a single bean.
"I don't fancy that", is the answer I get,"I like my Heinz beans." He's very much like the kids I teach in his resistance to trying new foods. I have good practice.
My Mom's beans of choice are Soldier beans. They are grown locally in North Vassalboro Maine and you can read a bit about local Maine foods and food traditions in this study of foodways from the University of Maine. Soldier beans are commonly known as European soldier beans, they are white with a red eye on the side, hence the other name, red eye beans. You can also use navy beans for your bean pot if you wish. Choose good molasses for your recipe, don't use blackstrap which will be too strong and overpower your beans. Speaking of molasses, since we are talking about a very native recipe, did you know about the Boston Molasses Disaster that occurred in 1919? If you have ever spilled your bottle of molasses you can just imagine what that cleanup must have been like.
This recipe is so simple to make, choose your ingredients well, a nice piece of salt pork with plenty of meat attached, I recommend Coleman's Dry mustard as the mustard of choice and I always tend to buy Crosby's molasses because I like the taste, my Mom is more of a Grandma's molasses fan.
Don't skimp on the dry mustard either. I know that 2 Tablespoons may sound like a lot, but my Mom told me that her Grandmother used to say that the dry mustard took the snappers out.
Start this recipe the night before by soaking your beans, they will take 8 hours to cook on the day. This is not a recipe to be rushed.
Enjoy the fall. Rake on.
2 pounds of pea beans, navy beans or soldier beans, Mom prefers soldier when she can find them.
1/4 - 1/2 pound of fairly lean salt pork, left whole as a chunk, but put slits in it.
2 TBS of Coleman's Dry Mustard
1 cup molasses
1/2 cup of light brown sugar
Mom doesn't add any salt because of the salt pork
1 medium, yellow onion, peeled, but left whole, and removed later
Pick over the beans and just make sure there are no rocks in them and then soak beans in water overnight in a large stockpot. Fill the pot with water and make sure that the water line is 4 - 5 inches above the beans. They will absorb a lot of water overnight.
In the morning, put the pot straight on the stove and simmer them until a foam comes to the top of the water. Scoop that foam out and discard it.
Simmer them until the outer skin begins to peel (maybe 10 - 15 minutes).
Pull a few out of the pot onto a spoon and blow on them to cool them quickly, when you see the skin peel back they are ready.
Put all the other other ingredients (except beans) in the crock pot and stir it up. Once it is mixed, add the beans, and enough of the water from the bean cooking liquid to just cover the surface of the beans. You don't want too much liquid in there or the beans will be soupy, not thick.
Then put the crock pot on high for about 2 hours.
Switch it to low for 6 hours, adding a little of the reserved bean water now and then only if it looks like they need it.
Taste your beans and add more water sugar or dry mustard if desired.