Regional Comfort Foods — Boston Baked Beans

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Boston Baked Beans From Scratch

Boston Baked Beans are iconic with their namesake, but their origins are actually Native American. Those indigenous peoples schooled the Pilgrims on survival and the wonders of baking beans, teaching the intricacies of such recipes back in the early 1600s! When Boston became a trade exporter of rum (made by the distillation of molasses), molasses were added to the beans and left to cook in brick ovens overnight on Saturdays. Barley and corn were combined to make the traditional Boston Brown Bread which was served after Church with the beans. By the way, this also earned Boston the nickname of “Bean Town.”

I have a full cast iron Dutch oven of beans cooking in the oven right now. They have been there since around 11:30 am (it is now 2:40) and I hope to have them for supper tonight. It is really such an easy recipe, I am amazed that more people don’t cook this from scratch. But like Sourdough Bread, because it takes a lot of time, folks think it takes a lot of effort — which it does not.

If you have a ham hock (like that leftover from your Thanksgiving ham) or a piece of salt pork, 2 bags of Navy beans, and various condiments, you can whip up the makings and put them to work for you in a few minutes and then enjoy them baking in your oven for 7 hours. (Yes, that’s how long it takes). But the aromas are divine, and season your Saturday, while you do things like raking leaves and cleaning out the chicken coop!

Here’s the very simple recipe:

Prep 2 bags of Navy Beans by one of two methods (or something in between)

Method 1: Put beans in large pot with LOTS of water to cover and let sit overnight. Okay, you’re not going to do that one.

Method 2: Boil the beans in water and apple cider for a few minutes and then let sit covered off heat for an hour. That’s a winner.

Then put the beans and liquid in a Cast Iron Dutch Oven with about a cup of black strap (non-sulphured) molasses, and appropriate (to taste) additions of Apple Cider (and/or Balsamic) Vinegar, real maple syrup, brown sugar, mustard, Worchestershiire Sauce, salt. Add a meaty ham hock and an onion studded with 6-8 cloves. Put in a 350 oven for about an hour until its bubbling, then turn heat down to 250 and check/stir/taste/adjust seasonings every hour for an additional 6 hours (7 hours total). Before serving, remove the ham bone and return any meat still on it to the pot. Similarly, remove the onion and chop up and return to the pan.

You can freeze in small portions and enjoy every time the snow falls, contemplating the harrows that our forefathers endured in those Bostons winters, and if you have the energy, make some brown bread to enjoy with it!

If you have any hacks on this traditional recipe, I’d love to hear them!