Sunday, March 10, 2013

New England Baked Beans: A Sacred Ritual

There is a knowing when you finally reach a level of understanding regarding beans.  In New England, the proper making of a Saturday night bean supper is steeped in tradition and one must never under estimate the importance of having achieved enlightenment on the subject of beans.  In all my 58 growing on 59 years, I never understood that until recently.  It suddenly occurred to me that I, Lili, daughter of Lurlene, grand daughter of Mayfair, gr. granddaughter of Ida  had finally attained my very own version of bean wisdom.

It is not so much the bean recipe that you use.  It is more of a mindset.  The proper planning, the proper fussing, the proper acquiring, sorting, assembly, oven logistics, to name a few.  There is so much to know.  And then, you have to temper all this with the proper fretting about the beans.  Not just sometimes, but all times.  Because you must never stir the beans while they are baking. The proper tip and swirl of the pot must be learned.  And you have to be extremely careful about how much liquid you add to them while they are cooking.  And not just how much liquid, these things cannot be measured.  It actually involves relying heavily on "bean knowledge."  Once you know, you know.  These things cannot be taught in a recipe or even a day or a month of making beans.  It takes the proper coming of age to know about beans.  Although my bean recipe has evolved into a vegetarian version, my fore mothers' always used salt pork.  But again, it is not the recipe that is important.  Well really in a way it is, but I will not be talking about that in this post.

About 13 years ago, I actually thought I could make beans.  Little did I know, my internship was just beginning. I still remember it well.  I was "up ta camp" as they say around here, and eager to have my mother and step father over for a typical Saturday night bean supper.  Looking back, I realize I missed nearly all of the finer intricacies of this sacred ritual.  I would have been better off going to the local general store to purchase a container of these properly baked and fretted over staples of Maine life, and then stuffing them into my newly purchased Reny's-bought bean pot.  But what I learned from my fervent attempt to make my Mama proud was golden.

On this particular Saturday evening "up ta camp," it happened about 40 minutes after the beans were officially done.  The problem being, this occurred when the beans were still in the oven.  And no amount of advice, wisdom or fretting could have saved them.   I am talking about witnessing an intervention by the 'bean doctors.'   It was unnerving to realize what was happening.  With my oven rack partially pulled out, I reached in with my oven mitt to remove the cover of my beautiful bean pot to proudly display the contents, hoping to find them at the peak of perfection.  Cover removed, I took a step back as my mother and step father made their way toward the oven, both tentatively hunched over my bean pot peering into its depth in silence.  "What? . . .what?" I nervously uttered.    Even they were at a loss.  I could tell in the knowing glance they gave each other.  No words.  Just a polite smile and a knowing glance.

We ate the beans anyway.  They ate the beans too.  Bean wisdom is not about feeling smug, or being unkind to a novice bean baker.  Part of this sacred ritual is to subject yourself to the fervent efforts of others that have yet to attain bean enlightenment, and to repeatedly endure whatever is offered up in the hopes that one day it will all be worth it.

Of course it is not so much about the day that this happens.  As it has been  happening for me for some time now.  It is more the moment that you realize it HAS happened and you cannot even remember when your first pot of perfect beans was finally achieved.

So for posterity, I submit to you a humble image of my own pot of New England baked beans.

Here is the recipe for my version.   But only the recipe.  The proper making of them is something you may enjoy attaining on your own too.   {wink}

 New England Baked Beans
(For use with navy beans, pea beans, great Northern beans or any dry bean that is your favorite.)  

Night Before Baking:  Sort and soak 2 cups of beans in a 4-6 quart pan.  Water should cover the beans by about 2 inches.

Early Next Morning:

Turn your oven to 350 degrees and take out all racks except for one, which should be in the middle position.

Drain and rinse soaked beans.  Parboil beans in covered pan starting with fresh cold water.  When the beans get to boiling, lift off cover and skim and discard all that foam.  Only parboil for about 10 minutes, then drain water.

Now, take your bean pot and in the bottom put 1 large peeled and sliced-in-half onion.  Add 2 T. unsalted butter, cut in slices.  Then, add some freshly grated pepper.  Now, is the time to add your drained beans over the top of  that.  

In a 2 cup measure, mix:  1/4 cup oil, 1/3 cup molasses (preferably Crosby's), 1 tsp. ground mustard, and a heaping tsp.of sea salt.  Fill to the top with hot water and stir. And then pour the contents over the top of the beans.  Make sure it just covers the beans.  If it does not, add just the slightest bit of hot water until it does.

Cover your bean pot and sit it on the rack in the middle of your oven, then TURN YOUR OVEN DOWN TO 275 DEGREES to cook for several hours.  The first time you will probably need to check your beans is about 2 hours or so into baking.  At that time, lift the lid and check to make sure your beans are not drying out.  You will probably need to add water at this point.  But do it sparingly.  You do not want to dilute that good bean juice.  Keep doing this about every couple hours.  Mine usually are done by hour 5, or when I have fretted over them long enough, whichever comes first.


NOTE:  I cannot stress enough that this is my own personal version of baked beans.  After all, we all must find our own way in the pursuit of baked bean nirvana.  


Terra said...

From an unsteady start you have persevered to bean baking nirvana, and your recipe sounds delish.

Hilary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hilary said...

Who knew that baked beans is so much like life itself. Thanks to Teri for pointing your fine post out to me. :)

Robin Larkspur said...

What a great post. I love how you have told this bean tale!
Gosh, I have never ever tried making beans. But you have lit a spark.

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

It is almost like a mystery story - wondering if the beans will come out perfect. Out here we don't put such store by baked beans - sad to say. They are often beans purchased in a can and doctored up a little to make them tasty and a bit tangy. My favorites to add are bacon, onion, mustard, sweet pickle relish, molasses (Grandma's brand) and a spot of ketchup - and sometmies a little brown sugar. And then bake until a little crust forms on the top, the liquid is reduced to almost nothing and the beans are very thick, and the smell makes you want to eat right now.

Ok - sorry to have ruined your lovely bean post - but that is how we do it out here - we never had anyone to show us the proper way to make baked beans. But everyone sure does love them. And the next few days you can always have baked bean sandwiches - pure heaven!! A little soft butter on the bread - heap up with cold baked beans and slap another slice of buttered bread on top - I do believe our baked beans might be a bit thicker than yours - so they don't soak up the bread or slide off. Ummmm delicious.

Kathryn Southworth said...

So very true, great memories of learning myself. How fitting as I am visiting Rachel in Florida and what's the first thing we cook? You got it, except we put a pound of bacon in ours. As you said, a million variations, Bill cooked an apple in his. I found my favorite recipe at my brother Ralphs wedding from his wife's grandmother. thanks for sharing :)

joanne said...

I had no idea just how much love and time it takes to make the proper pot of beans. Sounds like a lovely tradition.

Sandy, Sisters of Season said...

Hi Lili, My beloved Hubby Dave was the bean and soup maker in our home. This post was a sweet memorie for me. I'm sure the beans were delicious. xo

Crown of Beauty said...

The picture of your beans made my mouth water. I'm sure they tasted heavenly. I love the bean pot - I don't think we have them here, bu we do have different versions of crock pots. Is it okay to do "baked beans" in a slow cooker? Maybe I will try it... since I don't have a bean pot.

I love beans, really. But we don't have a ritual for cooking them. With your recipe, I could try.

Lili, I really loved this post. Thank you for taking time to write it and share your bean story with us.

Much love

Daryl said...

well i think next time i am craving baked beans i will open a jar of B&B ... ;)

simply bev said...

Perfect comfort food for a chilly weekend! Oh, how I miss New England baked beans! Thank you for sharing your recipe!

Lisa said...

I've ignored this post for a few days because...I hate beans. The texture, the smooshy-ness, the brown-ness--blech. And this is coming from someone who may or may not have sprung fully articulated from a cast iron pot of bean-hole beans. They are that important in my family. At our Upta Camp it's a male thing. There is fire involved and digging out the hole and drinking cans of budweiser and lot's of standing around saying "Hot enough?"-"Nope" or "A-yuh" over and over until you want to scream. I want no part of it. Though I am a big fan of B&M canned brown bread with lots of real butter and Beans red hotdogs! No baked beans though. I'll have extra salad, thanks. Great post, Lili

Sharon Lovejoy said...

Honey, I needs myself a bean pot!

I love it when our local Rutherford's Island church has their Saturday night bean suppahs. So delicious and the aroma is glorious.

Ok, this summer in Maine (IF I ever get there) I will make some. Will you and Henri journey south? You're always welcome.



Suldog said...

Thanks for this. It brought back warm memories of My Dad, who made the best (no offense to you or anyone else, but it was true) baked beans ever. And, despite having his recipe, I've never quite been able to replicate them. Alas, I have not yet acquired the knowledge...

Hilary said...

I really loved this post.
And I totally get that you have to go through your own fire to get your very own version of perfect baked beans.

Gary's third pottery blog said...

delighted to meet you, thanks for visiting my blob, and we just had OUR version of these beans for dinnah a minute ago! :)

She Who Carries Camera said...

How ironic that upon my first visit to your lovely blog, the post would be about beans, for that is my nickname! For me, the same homage goes to baking Yorkshire Puddings. My hubby is from England, therefore, many years have been dedicated to perfecting the dish, and even though, the day did come when, to my surprise I pulled out the most perfect yorkshire puds from the oven, there still remains those days when I still can be disappointed by them. Those elusive "perfect" puds! Thanks so much for stopping by my place and saying nice to meet you!

Pearl Maple said...

Great post, a recipe is all the more flavourful for a good story behind it

Vicki Boster said...

Oh Lili-- I am laughing out loud because I do so get this!! It's the very same thing here "in my neck of the woods"-- only it's soup beans instead of baked beans!! It's not the recipe-- it's the fretting over the beans-- I learned from my Mom who learned from her Mom and so on----
I make a mean pot of soup beans let me tell you!!


Rain said...

Great post Lili !! Miss you!! Hoping this summer I can make it all the way down east to your tea house!!
L,Rain :)

Polly McCormick said...

Hey Lilli! So sorry I missed you at the Goumas CandyLand store last week!! Since I opened my own shop 7 months ago, it has really been my main focus! I would have loved to have met you!! Thanks so much for coming by there!!


p.s. i blog mostly at Georgie Emerson Vintage now. And I facebook way more than blog if you'd like to follow along on my journey as a shopkeeper!!

Privet and Holly said...

{S M I L I N G}

Can you believe it,
I fixed the kids baked
beans for supper tonight.

I kid you not!

Glad to see that you
are well and staying
cozy and baking beans.

Has spring arrived in
Maine yet?

We still have snow
around the edges ~
got 10 inches a week
ago ~ but sun and warmer
temps are finally moving
things along : )

xo Suzanne

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Vicki Boster said...

Just had you on my mind dear Lily-- wishing you a wonderful weekend--

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Country Girl said...

I. Love. This. How did I miss this?! So beautifully written too.

Heaven's Walk said...

Hi Lili! Wanna know a secret? I've never made baked beans once in my lie...but I think it's time I did - and I want to use your recipe, too! Hope all is well with you, girlie - and that you're enjoying a beautiful spring!! Sending you a big hug!

xoxo laurie

Heaven's Walk said...

Hi Lily! Just popping in to see how you're doing! Hope that you're enjoying a beautiful summer out there, sweetie! ♥

xoxo laurie

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