My Mar-Crest Daisy Dot casserole is getting old. There’s a chip on the inside rim of the lid that has started a hairline fracture, so I should probably just save it for display, but right now it’s the only covered stoneware casserole I have, so it was called into duty for baked beans. It was my mother’s and I also got a regular bean pot from her, but those traditional narrow-necked pots are hard to deal with, so I gave that one to my daughter for her own display of crockery.
My casserole is small, only 1.5 quarts, so one pound of navy beans doesn’t quite fit. Maybe more than 3/4 lb, but not quite one. I don’t think baked beans could be any easier; it’s just the oven time invested, but on a day when you have other work around the house to keep you busy, it’s not a lot of work to tend to them every few hours just to add more bean liquor. They come out sweet and saucy, but not cloyingly sweet. I left the house for a little shopping and there were no disasters. I know you’d like them for that summer picnic, but who wants to have the oven on all day in the summer? You can probably find a slow-cooker recipe for good baked beans in the summer. This cold, early spring seemed like a good time to have the oven on.
Boston Baked Beans
Prepare the beans:
1 lb navy beans
6 cups water
You can soak your beans overnight and finish the cooking in the oven, but I use the quick-soak method, cooking them to nearly done:
- Rinse and sort beans—yes, you can still find stones and dirt in dried beans today. I rinse my beans in warm water several times, squishing them between my fingers to get some friction going to knock off any dirt. Stones are not too hard to see if you slowly pour them into your saucepan.
- Cover with 6 cups of water. Bring to boil and boil for 1 minute. Cover, turn off heat, and let sit for one hour.
- Bring to a second boil, then simmer for about 30 minutes. I have had undercooked beans refuse to finish cooking after adding ingredients like salt and sugar. Plus, if my beans are not close to their full-cooked size, they can expand in the oven and overflow your pot if it’s full. I don’t find that this last step of cooking adversely affects the texture of the beans in the final dish.
- Strain the beans, reserving the bean liquor.
Preheat oven to 300°
Prepare the casserole:
1 lb pre-cooked or soaked navy beans
1 onion, diced
3-4 oz salt pork cut in 1-2 inch squares (I cut off the rind)—yes, bacon is good with beans, but I think salt pork stands up better to the long cooking.
1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup tomato sauce, unseasoned
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
4-6 cups bean liquor from pre-cooking or fresh water or stock
Optional: salt & pepper, if you are not using salt pork or you know how salty it might be
- Combine the beans and onion. Put half in casserole and top with half the salt pork. Mix together molasses, brown sugar, and tomato sauce and pour half over beans.
- Add remaining beans and onion and cover with remaining salt pork. Pour the rest of the molasses mixture on top.
- Pour in bean liquor to just cover the beans. In my casserole, it comes right to the top of the dish, and about 1 cup of cooked beans don’t fit in the dish.
- Cover and bake for 6-8 hours, checking every two hours to see if the liquid has been absorbed by the beans. You can tell if the top looks dry and you see no liquid at the edges. Slowly pour in bean liquor to the top and return to oven, covered. I used up all my reserved bean liquor and the beans came out saucy, but not soupy. If you think there is too much liquid, just remove the cover for the last 1/2-1 hour. You want a nice, thick sauce with your beans.
- I did not add any salt and we thought they had just the right amount of saltiness. I understand that some people blanch their salt pork to remove a little salt first, but I don’t find that to be necessary.
There is no comparison between baked beans made from canned beans and those made from dried beans. Give it a try, if only to say you did it once.