Being from the Boston area means three things:
- I can never date a Yankees fan
- My driving isn’t bad, it’s just regionally inappropriate for Alaska….or most places
- On Saturday nights I feel compelled to have baked beans.
Baked beans on Saturday night is a long time New England tradition. In modern times it seems somewhat incompatible with the popular “date night”, but considering that the colonists ate them cold on Sunday morning to fortify them for their solemn church service, it’s hard to say which generation was more at risk for embarrassment.
I don’t make baked beans all that often, but when my Grandma Pat was still alive, I used to call her every time I got the bean pot out. The conversation usually went something like this.
“Hi Nana! I’m making your favorite – baked beans!”
She would squeal and say “You are! How wonderful, I love baked beans! It’s awfully late to be starting baked beans, honey, what time is it there?” The matter of the time difference was always a topic of conversation and often a source of confusion. On baked bean days, I’d usually call in the morning, so I would report something like “It’s quarter past 10, Nana”.
“Ooooh” she’d say. “It’s almost half past two here”. The fact that the time difference is exactly four hours, not four and change never seemed to phase her. She’d fuss around for the clock – the one that I gave her that would vocalize the time and crow like a rooster – and I’d hear in the background “It’s two-twenty one p.m”. “Did you hear that honey?”, she’d ask, laughing. She loved that talking clock – despite the fact that as it aged it would loudly report the time at random and often unreasonable hours, waking her from a sound sleep. She wouldn’t turn off the talking option, though, I think because she liked the excitement.
Once we had the matter of the time settled, I’d tell her that I had her old bean pot out and was putting it to use. “Is that old thing still around?” she’d ask. “My mother used to make baked beans in that every Saturday night.” At this point I’d usually interject – “But Nana, there were 13 of you! How did it all fit in this one pot?”. There’d be silence on the line for a minute as she pondered and then she’d sigh and say “I don’t know, honey, it was the depression”.
She’d ponder a little more and then say “I used to hate that bean pot. Saturday nights I’d have a date with your grandfather but I’d have to wash that bean pot before my mother would let me out. The lid would just be black and no matter how much I scrubbed it, it would still be black. It would make me late, scrubbing and scrubbing, and I wanted to get going on my date! My hands would be filthy! I was so embarrassed to see your grandfather with black under my nails and then my mother would make me take a baby carriage along with one of my sisters in it. I could never leave the house without a baby carriage. It’s a wonder your grandfather was interested in me”.
That was my cue to say “He must have really loved you, Nana!”. This would lead us down memory lane, with Grandma Pat reminiscing about how much she loved my grandpa, and how hard it was for her during the war, waiting for his letters and worrying about him. When we finally got back around to the beans and the old bean pot, she’d be so sentimental from talking about my grandfather that she’d usually say something like “you be careful with that bean pot! It’s an antique, like your grandmother! Don’t pick it up by the handle, and make sure you get all of the black off the lid – does it still do that?” She’d seem pleased when I reported that indeed, the unglazed bottom of the bean pot lid still got black as tar when I made baked beans. “Well, just keep scrubbing “, she’d say.
In honor of Grandma Pat, and our first July 4th without her, this weekend I made some old fashioned Boston baked beans suitable for all of those summer barbecues and cookouts.
My version starts from already cooked white beans. This guarantees that these beans WILL be done when you expect them to be done. If any of you have had the experience of making baked beans from scratch only to have them still firm at supper time – this will solve that problem. Beans cooked in acid or salt take a long time to soften, as do older beans. This recipe has many acidic things (tomatoes, vinegar, etc), so pre-cooking the beans removes all of the guesswork.
There are MANY methods out there for cooking dried beans – you can soak them overnight, do a quick soak in the morning, or even cook them directly without soaking. I recommend looking at Central Bean for some bean cooking options, and selecting the one that works the best for your time frame.
Cooked beans also freeze really well, so it’s not only acceptable, but perhaps even preferred to precook a large batch of plain, unflavored beans, and then freeze them for later (using them like canned beans). This approach is much more economical than relying on canned beans, though it does require some freezer space. It’s not just baked beans where pre-cooked beans come in handy. A stock of black beans, garbanzo beans, or white beans can make it pretty simple to whip up hummus, black bean balls, or to add a quick protein to a salad.
In a pinch, you can always used canned white beans in this recipe. Neither Grandma Pat nor Grandma Grace would approve – and I’m sure my New England readers are completely horrified – but hey, it tastes the same and no one needs to be any the wiser. Don’t worry Mom – when you visit, I’ll make ’em from scratch.
[recipe title=”Boston Baked Beans ” servings=”6 ” time=”30 minutes active, 2 hours inactive ” difficulty=”easy”]
1 pound dry white beans such as navy or great northern, cooked completely, or 4 15 ounce cans white beans, drained and rinsed
2 medium onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, pressed
1 packed tablespoon grated ginger
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
1/4 cup boiled cider
1 tablespoon ground mustard (dry, not prepared)
8 whole cloves
Preheat oven to 350 F. Take the peeled, root end of the onion, or an additional garlic clove, and press the 8 whole cloves into it (basically ‘studding’ a piece of onion or garlic to keep the cloves from floating around in the beans, and making it easier to fish out of the finished dish). Combine all ingredients and place in a covered, ovenproof pot. Add water to almost, but not quite, cover the beans. Bake for 2 hours, stirring periodically and adding more water if beans appear to be drying out. Serve!
- Here’s an example of a ‘studded’ garlic:
- You can also use a dark beer, or hard apple cider to cover the beans in place of the water
- If you don’t have boiled cider, you can substitute apple juice concentrate