Knitting and crochet have slowed down quite a lot so Tuesday this week will also be “off topic.” I’m not in a slump or anything. I’ve been working a lot of hours. I’ll have nothing for WIP Wednesday. I might have something done for FO Friday if I get settled in with some cross stitch.
I usually share a recipe when I can’t discuss my crafting progress, so I decided, why not share my Boston Baked Beans recipe? I think this could be useful to some people, but especially my fellow bloggers who are uncertain about what exactly “American food” is. My English learners never fail to answer “hamburger” if I ask them to tell me an example of an American dish. After I say, “that’s not exactly a dish, it’s a sandwich,” well, nothing else crosses the learners’ minds. I’ve even been asked if we only eat hamburgers and hot dogs every day. I guess that person never saw an American TV show or a Hollywood film!
In Spain, people’s ignorance about America is completely understandable. My homeland seems to be only interested in selling Coke products as well as McDonald’s and Burger King to the entire world, helping the population to become generally unhealthier every day.
So, if you are unfamiliar with the USA and have no idea what American food is, you are just like an American, who also has no idea what constitutes American food! We Americans certainly seem to know, or act like we know, what it is, but the truth is it’s a hodgepodge of dishes from all around the world that often get hybridized or transformed, mixing together things native to the American continent with other ingredients from elsewhere. Take, for example, General Tso’s Chicken. We Americans more often consider this dish to be Chinese, but it was invented in the USA and as far as I know, you won’t find it in China anywhere. It’s American, but then again, it isn’t. It’s a mixture.
And, with all that said, why not pick a dish from New England, the region I am from in the northeastern United States? Nothing exemplifies the hybrid nature of American food more than these Boston Baked Beans. Some people say they are from Boston because of two ingredients: molasses and salt pork. Molasses, however, came to Boston from the Caribbean via trade ships, so maybe there were people cooking them this way in the islands and it traveled to America from there. The cooking method – baking – was learned from Native Americans. BBC Good Food actually published a version that is not at all even near to being what I consider to be Boston Baked Beans, but that’s OK. Make the dish any way you want.
Like most folk recipes, this dish does not require a lot of skill and the amounts can be altered to adapt it to your individual preferences. It adapts well to any old cooking method: Slow cooker, pressure cooker, oven. You don’t even have to bake them.
1 package, usually 1 lb. or 15 oz, of navy beans (Br. Eng. “haricot beans,” Southern US English “pea beans”), soaked overnight or use the fast-soaking method (weight of beans given before soaking)
1 Tblsp. Worcestershire sauce (or more, if you want!)
1/4 cup molasses (or more, for sweeter beans)
1 Tblsp. prepared mustard (or dried mustard, if you wish)
1 onion, chopped
8 oz salt pork or a few slices of smoked bacon
Enough water to cover the beans in your cooking pot of choice
Drain the beans and discard the soaking water. Dump all the ingredients into the pot. When you add water, just have the water go about 1 inch above the surface of the beans. You can check by placing a wooden spoon upright into the water, dipping it in until it touches the surface of the beans.
If you wish to bake them: Place them in a preheated 350 F oven and bake them, covered, for about 3 hours. It will be necessary to check on them to stir them and add more water if they dry out.
If you wish to slow cook them, set the slow cooker to high and cook for 8 hours. Again, you will need to check on them periodically to see if they need more water.
If you’re using a pressure cooker, cook the beans on high pressure for 50 minutes. Wait for the pressure to slowly go down instead of using a fast method of reducing pressure.
When your beans are done, add salt to taste. I do not recommend cooking them with any added salt. They may never get tender. The salt pork may be enough flavor enhancement, anyway.
Troubleshooting your beans:
- Are your beans too watery? This most often happens with the pressure cooker method. Easy solution: put them in a pot on the stove, bring them to a gentle boil, and then simmer them until the excess water evaporates and they are at the desired consistency. In fact, this is why I use a stove top pressure cooker to make mine. If they have too much water, I just cook them uncovered until the liquid is reduced.
- Are your beans still not done? You’ll have to cook them some more! Sometimes dried beans take longer than usual because of a variety of factors, including the age of the beans.
How to serve your Boston Baked Beans
This can be a side dish or the main course. That’s how we eat them in Maine!
Popular meats to serve with them: sausages or hot dogs, a steak, a hamburger.
Breakfast (or “breakfast for dinner”): With hot buttered toast, fried eggs and potatoes, a blueberry muffin.
As a main course: By all means, try making some Boston Brown Bread and eat it with your beans. That’s what we do in Maine, as well. When they’re served this way, some people prefer to eat them with a spoon instead of a fork.
Popular garnishes: I, like a lot of people, add ketchup to my beans along with some pickle relish.
Baked Bean Trivia
The wonderful city of Boston has the nickname “Beantown” because it was believed that this dish comes from there and because people who live in Boston and Maine, as well as other parts of New England, eat this dish regularly. Some of us make them from scratch as my recipe teaches you to do. Others of us eat them from cans. Some of us do both. When I lived in the US, like a good Mainer, I always had some cans of baked beans in my cupboard, just in case I needed them.
Sadly, baked beans come from absolutely nowhere and everywhere, so the Boston thing is partially a myth. It is true that the Boston style is present in this recipe: salt pork and molasses make these the “Beantown” variety, but it seems that cooking them in a sauce similar to this one has been done in many different places. As a matter of fact, in eastern Canada and Northern Maine, some people prefer to use maple syrup instead of the Boston-style molasses ingredient.
As far as the baking goes, that method was no doubt invented by the Penobscot Native Americans in Maine. In Maine we have a cooking method especially for baked beans called “bean hole” cooking, where the pot is buried in the ground with hot coals. Not a lot of people cook their beans this way anymore, but sometimes you can still see it happen, especially at cookouts.