Preparing traditional baked beans with some modern changes.
Among the first recipes my mother-in-law (belle-mère) and sisters-in-laws (belle souers) taught me to prepare was how to bake Maine baked beans, in an old fashioned bean pot, from scratch. You might ask, “Maine baked beans”? Are they different than Boston Baked Beans? Well, the truth be told, any kind of baked beans can be prepared in an old fashioned bean pot- call them Maine, New England, Boston or Vermont, they each have their special signature ingredients. Actually, the secret to good tasting beans are in the ingredients added to the pot and the art of knowing when the beans “sont fait” (are done baking). Beans will absorb the flavors of the ingredients and spices added to the baking pot. For example, barbecue beans will taste differently than Boston, Maine or Texas recipes, based on the ingredients used. So, be creative.
Those familiar with the brown, and tan bean pot, used to prepare homemade baked beans, might find one, today, in an antique shop. Fortunately, I have a few functional varieties in my basement. Unfortunately, I haven’t used them in over a decade. So, during this brutally cold winter, with the ice holding my husband and I, more or less, home bound, I took the reclusive opportunity to “fait les fèves – chez nous” (make beans at home), using the technique like my belle-mère et belle souers taught me. I cleaned up one of those nearly antique bean pots to “fait les fèves”. Except, I made a personal recipe change. Yup! I made the decision to add chopped garlic to the traditional ingredients. Many traditionalists have already raised their eyebrows to this personal choice of adding garlic to Maine baked beans. Nevertheless, I can now report the results. Indeed, I highly recommend adding garlic to any baked bean recipes. In fact, I don’t know what took me so long to think of adding garlic to my family’s recipe. In a traditional Maine baked bean recipe, the ingredients include salt pork, onion, molasses, brown sugar, dried mustard, salt, pepper, water (to cover the beans) and, of course, dried navy beans that are soaked for at least 8 hours, or overnight and drained. I added one clove of chopped garlic, but could easily have increased this amount. (The result was delicious!)
Measurements of each of the ingredients depends on the amount of beans prepared and the size of the bean pot; but for one and a half cups of soaked beans, I usually add one chopped onion, 1/3 pound of diced or chopped fresh salt port, 4 tablespoons of brown sugar, 1/3 cup molasses, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of ground dry mustard, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper and water to cover the beans.(Also, for this recipe, I added one chopped clove of garlic.) Cover the bean pot, place in a 325 F degree oven and check on them in about 2 hours for water absorption. Always add boiling water when the beans need more moisture, so they will will continue to simmer. Indeed, there is an art to knowing how much water to add to prevent the beans from burning during the extended time they spend baking in the oven. In fact, baking beans takes a long time. Our pot stayed in the 325 F degree oven for 7 hours and hot water was added two times during the cooking process. An experienced cook knows how to taste the beans for “doneness” before declaring “sont fait”. Note– there are some preferred techniques about adding either whole or diced onion and salt pork. Some baked bean experts prefer to add a whole peeled onion, rather than chopped or diced, to the bean pot. Likewise, with the salt pork. Some cooks add a chunk of salt pork to the pot, while others, like me, prefer it to be diced.
Frankly, the art of preparing “baked beans- chez nous” (at home) is losing out to the varieties of commercially prepared and good tasting canned labels, that are so readily available in grocery stores. Therefore, here is my perfectly acceptable alternative to the traditional baked bean recipe. Buy your favorite prepared canned baked beans and consider mixing up a few flavors. Pour them into an old fashioned bean pot. Fry two-three pieces of bacon in a fry pan, and sauté one chopped onion with one or two chopped cloves of garlic in the drippings. Drain the fat and chop the bacon. Add the sauté to the bean pot and stir to blend the ingredients. Put the bean pot in the oven at 325 F degrees for about 1 hour and 15 minutes and serve with side dishes of choice. Typically, corn bread or New England brown bread are served with Maine baked beans. A French baguette is good too. Bon appétit!