International Recipes and Cooking Around the World

Boston Baked Beans

Boston Baked Beans (American white beans baked with molasses)

(American white beans baked with molasses)

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The earliest colonists in North America learned how to slow cook beans with maple syrup from Native Americans. Molasses was a common sweetener in the United States throughout the 19th century, and Boston was a center of production. One tasty result of this abundance was Boston baked beans. It's not called Beantown for nothing!

A ceramic bean pot is the traditional vessel for this dish, but any deep, ceramic or earthenware baking dish or casserole will work well. The baking soda supposedly helps the beans soften up. It is a traditional addition but probably not necessary.

Boston baked beans are traditionally served with Boston brown bread. Add the deep crimson hot dogs called "red dogs," and you've got yourself an old-fashioned Maine bean supper (or "suppah," as Mainers say).

6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

  • Beans, small white, navy or Great Northern -- 1 pound
  • Baking soda -- pinch
  • Onion, chopped -- 1
  • Molasses -- 1/2 cup
  • Brown sugar -- 2 tablespoons
  • Dry mustard -- 2 teaspoons
  • Salt -- 2 teaspoons
  • Pepper -- 1 teaspoon
  • Salt pork, sliced 1/4-inch thick -- 1/4 pound

Method

  1. Add the beans to a large saucepan and add water to cover them by at least 1 inch. Soak the beans overnight, drain and rinse.
  2. Preheat oven to 275°F. Cover the beans with fresh water and add a pinch of baking soda. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the skins of the beans flake when you blow on them. Drain again but do not rinse.
  3. Stir the onion, molasses, brown sugar, dry mustard, salt and pepper into the beans. Place half the salt pork slices on the bottom of a deep, 2-quart casserole dish or bean pot. Add the beans and enough water to just barely cover them. Place the remaining salt pork slices on the top of the beans. Cover the casserole or bean pot with a lid or aluminum foil.
  4. Bake the beans for 6 to 8 hours, adding water as needed to keep the beans just barely covered, about every hour or so. Do not stir the beans.
  5. Uncover for the last 30 minutes of baking to brown the salt pork and caramelize the top of the beans. Serve hot with Boston brown bread.

Baked Bean Variations

  • Vermont or Canadian Maple Baked Beans: Use real maple syrup instead of molasses. A chopped apple is sometimes added, as is a little tomato product such as chopped tomatoes or ketchup.
  • Use bacon instead of salt pork if you like. Or add a big hunk of ham.
  • Add a little ground cloves or ginger to the beans for a more complex flavor.

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