There was a time when every young woman in New England learned how to bake beans before setting up her own home. It was a right of passage, sort of the Puritan answer to a debutante’s ball or filling one’s hope chest with pintucked silks.
Baked beans were, and in many towns still are, a Saturday night tradition all over New England. The recipes might differ slightly – my mother used Yellow Eye beans and plenty of molasses while my mother-in-law was partial to Jacob’s Cattle beans and maple syrup – but the end result remained the same, a filling, nutritious, slightly sweet treat.
In my rebellious youth I eschewed yellow-eye beans in favor of the little white navy beans that are more commonly found in commercially canned beans. That worked fine until we moved to the Northwest. Beans are like wine grapes in that the “terrior” affects how the beans hold up. I have not had very good luck with navy beans here at all. The long cooking time always results in a mushy baked bean, and I prefer baked beans that hold together!
A few years ago I started growing an Oregon heirloom bean, Peregion. Peregion beans are beautifully multicolored and keep their shape in long-cooking soups or baked beans. They are similar in size and flavor to black beans, but other types of dry beans like yellow-eye, Jabob’s Cattle, Great Northern or Brown Dutch also work just as well in this recipe. I would avoid using pinto beans as they break down too easily.
- 1 lb. dry beans
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp prepared hot mustard
- 3/4 cup molasses
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1 large leek, chopped
- 3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste
Rinse beans and discard any small pebbles or broken beans. In a large pot, cover beans with cold water. Bring to a boil, simmer 2 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let sit one hour.
Bring to boil again, reduce heat and simmer until beans are tender, about an hour. Drain beans – this helps to reduce some of the gas causing compounds.
Add brown sugar, mustard, molasses, ginger and leek to the beans. Spoon into a covered bean crock or 3 quart casserole dish. Cover with boiling water and bake at 300 degrees for 4 hours. Stir occasionally and add more water as necessary. Stir in red wine vinegar and salt and pepper during last half-hour of baking.
I like to serve baked beans with homemade macaroni and cheese, a big green salad, and pickles.
Serves 6 – 8
Note: These beans are vegetarian, which is not a New England tradition! Traditionally baked beans include salt pork, ham hocks, or some other form of fat (my mother-in-law uses sausage). You won’t miss the fat at all with these beans, but some of that “fatty” flavor is added back with the red wine vinegar. Seriously. I promise.
Also, many people avoid baked beans because of the uncomfortable gas causing compounds. I use a couple of tricks here to reduce that effect. First, don’t bake the beans in the same water they were soaked in. Secondly, add a little ground ginger or coriander to help reduce the gassiness too.