Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Boston Baked Beans -- the Classic Way!

The weather today is gray, cold, and wet.  In my opinion, the perfect time for a fire in the fireplace.  And, while I'm at it, why not cook something historical, too?

My taste buds said, "Baked Beans", the kind that you are supposed to cook slowly for hours and hours.  I checked several books and found a recipe, "Boston Baked Beans", in Pioneer Recipes and Remedies by Millie Foster Cheesman (page 168).

ISBN 0-9658406-0-3

A quick internet search told me:  "Back in colonial days, a favorite Boston food was beans baked in molasses for several hours. Back then, Boston was sort of awash in molasses - it was part of the 'triangular trade' in which slaves in the Caribbean grew sugar cane to be shipped to Boston to be made into rum to be sent to West Africa to buy more slaves to send to the West Indies. Even after the end of this practice, Boston continued as big rum producing city."  (About.com: Boston)

6 cups pea or navy beans
1 pound salt pork (I used bacon)
1 Tbsp dry mustard
1 Tbsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 cup molasses
1 small onion (optional)

Pick over beans (you are taking out pebbles and ugly, shriveled beans), cover with cold water, and soak overnight.  In the morning, drain, cover with fresh water, bring to a boil very slowly, then simmer until the skins burst...

My note:  6 cups is a lot of beans.  This filled my 6 quart soup kettle!  You might want to start with a half recipe.   I did the soaking and simmering on the stove, saving the long term cooking for the fireplace.  Also, I skimmed off and threw away the white foam from the surface of the simmering beans.

Just starting to simmer. 

Drain beans.  Scald the salt pork, which should be well streaked with lean, by letting it stand in boiling water for five to 10 minutes.

Note:  I used bacon, since salt pork was out of stock at my butcher's.  So I didn't scald it.

Cut off two thin slices, one to place in bottom of pot, the other to cut into bits.  Score rind of the remaining piece with sharp knife.  Mix dry mustard, salt, black pepper and molasses.

Note:  I put two slices of bacon in the bottom of my large Dutch oven and cut up one slice to bits.

Alternate the layers of beans in the pot with the molasses mixture and the bits of pork.  If you use an onion, bury it in the middle.

This is about half of the beans, with some sauce, bacon bits, and onion.
When the bean pot is full, push the large piece of pork down into the beans with the rind sticking up.  Add boiling water to cover, put the lid on, and bake all day (a minimum of six to eight hours) in a 250 degree F oven.  Check from time to time and add boiling water if needed.  Uncover the pot during last hour of baking so the rind can brown and crisp.

Notes:  Once I got the Dutch oven to the fireplace and put in the boiling water (in that order!), I surrounded it with small coals and put some on the lid, too.  It is supposed to cook slowly, so I didn't put many coals underneath, just mostly ringed it.  It certainly was hot enough.  It was bubbling and steaming.  I kept moving coals away until it was at a very slow simmer.

The coals to the side are a "stockpile" to keep the heat going for hours.

I set a timer to check it every thirty minutes or so.  After a few hours, I added some more hot water, just to make sure it was covered.  This only needed to be done once.

The coals were nearly out after about 8 hours so I took the pan off the fire.  I had to stir the beans to see them and their taste was "watery".  So I put the pan over the stove with the lid off to thicken them a bit; it took about 30 minutes.

I love the color!

The Verdict:
The taste was good!  It was very close to what I recalled having once a long time ago; the only thing I thought was that I wanted it to be a little richer.  It could be that my sweet tooth was talking, but it tasted better with another 1/2 cup of molasses stirred in.  And I thought the flavor was even better the second day.  The bacon had cooked to little pieces and were fun to find in a mouthful.  Definitely a success.

I think this would be good with a plate of hot cornbread or a slice of ham and a green salad.

You don't have to have a fireplace to cook Boston Baked Beans.  As the recipe says, you can put it into a ceramic bean pot or any oven-safe deep casserole with a lid and bake it in your oven.  I was just interested in trying it in my fireplace!

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