Boston Baked Beans

When it comes to summer picnics, I look forward to a handful of things: blackened hot dogs on the grill, sweet corn on the cob, watermelon and baked beans. I’ve always heard rumblings that beans get a bad rap, especially among kids, but I’ve always been a fan. Whether it was refried beans or black beans in a Mexican dish, kidney beans in chili, cannelini beans in minestrone, garbanzo beans ground into hummus or baked beans during the summer, I’ve always loved them all. My mom has a barbecued beans dish that she’s famous for – it involves ground beef, bacon, some canned beans, and a homemade barbecue sauce. I can’t ever get enough of it when she makes it, but this summer, after getting my feet wet soaking and cooking beans from scratch, I wanted to nail down a great baked beans recipe. I’m thrilled to have finally done so, and what a keeper this recipe is!

Boston Baked Beans are a variety of baked beans that are typically sweetened with molasses (because it was readily available in the Boston area in the 1700’s) and flavored with salt pork or bacon (both are used in this recipe).

Have you ever used salt pork? I hadn’t heard of it before this recipe, so I wasn’t even sure what I was looking for at the store. I thought a photo of the packaging would help in case you’re in a similar situation – I found the salt pork in the refrigerated case next to the chicken, beef and pork, where you would buy ham steaks or whole hams. My mom said that my grandma used it in a lot of recipes back in the day, which made me feel that this particular recipe was right on track!

These beans have a wonderful deep, yet mild, flavor and are tender without being mushy. They’re bean nirvana. Making these takes a little bit of forethought, as they are baked in the oven on a low temperature for many hours. If you will be away during the day, can’t have the oven occupied for that long, or want to let them cook overnight, I think you could just as easily pop this into a slow cooker and let it go on low for 6 to 8 hours. Just don’t be tempted to crank it up to high or rush the cooking process… the beans definitely benefit from the “low and slow” cooking method. Once you taste them, you’ll be infatuated and so glad you were patient!

Now that I have Boston and molasses on the brain, I think I need to try my hand at some Boston brown bread soon!

One year ago: Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie
Four years ago: Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Boston Baked Beans

Ingredients:

4 ounces salt pork, trimmed of rind and cut into ½-inch cubes

2 ounces bacon, cut into ¼-inch pieces

1 medium onion, finely chopped

½ cup + 1 tablespoon mild molasses, divided

1/3 cup light brown sugar

2 tablespoons brown mustard

1 pound dried small white beans (like great northern beans), rinsed and picked over

1¼ teaspoons salt

9 cups water

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Salt and pepper, to taste


Directions:

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; preheat oven to 300 degrees F.


2. Add salt pork and bacon to a large Dutch oven (at least 7 quarts); cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and most fat is rendered, about 7 minutes. Add onion and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 8 minutes.


3. Add ½ cup molasses, brown sugar, mustard, beans, 1¼ teaspoons salt, and 9 cups water; increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil. Cover pot and set in oven. Bake until beans are tender, about 4 hours, stirring once after 2 hours.


4. Remove lid and continue to bake until liquid has thickened to syrupy consistency, 1 to 1½ hours longer. Remove beans from oven; stir in remaining tablespoon of molasses, vinegar, and additional salt and pepper to taste. Serve. (You can make the beans ahead of time, letting them cool to room temperature, and then storing in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.)


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(Recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated)


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