Learning to Make Boston Baked Beans
During a recent trip to visit my parents, I was asked, as the New Englander, how Boston Baked Beans are actually made. I answered that I had no idea - partly embarrassed (I have lived in/around Boston for years), partly indignant (I was raised in The South).
AT ANY RATE: as it is tradition here to, well, Explore, I set out so that it might be learnt.
So, first of all, why bake beans? It turns out that baking beans in this fashion (and the less well known, but still findable, Boston Brown Bread) were convenient ways for observant protestants to assemble a meal in a hot oven on Saturday night and eat said hot, cooked meal on Sunday without doing any “work” on the Sabbath. Fair enough. We here at KGETU are probably less virtuous, but just as hungry.
Second, what should they taste like? According to an old New York Times article I found, the two places in Boston that still make The Beans the old way are Durgin Park (Est. 1827 (or 1742)) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durgin-Park and The Union Oyster House (Est. 1826) http://www.unionoysterhouse.com/. This is great because both of these places are an easy walk from the lab. First observation: not as sweet as beans from a can. Second: definitely tasting the molasses (as opposed to brown sugar).
Next: recipes? On the shelf we actually have a 1909 printing of Fannie Farmer’s _Boston Cooking School Cookbook_. It is the kind of cookbook that has no temperature or solid timing instructions.
From this book (and other sources) I put together a recipe that works in 2011. And it works well. We have prepared these half-a-dozen times at this point and they are good. If you try this recipe, let me know. I am curious if it works for others.
1) Soak 2 cups of dry navy beans in water overnight.
2) Next day, drain and rinse the beans.
3) Pre-heat the oven to 325 F.
4) Boil the beans until the skins bust open when you blow on them (about 30 minutes). This actually works. And it adds a sense of fun and theater to the dish.
5) While the beans are boiling, brown about 2 ounces of salt pork (fatback) on low heat.
6) To a ceramic cooking dish, add the beans, 2 tablespoons molasses, 4 tablespoons of sugar, ½ teaspoon of salt, the salt pork, and enough boiling water to cover the beans. Stir.
7) Cover with foil and bake in the oven for 3 hours.
8) About half way through, check on them and add boiling water again if needed.
9) Remove from the oven and allow to sit covered, overnight, on the counter or stovetop. Do not remove the foil. (And throw out the piece of salt pork before serving.)
And yes. Salt pork is just awful to deal with. I have tried to make them without it and it just is not right. And yes, the recipe basically takes 48 hours. But they as very tasty and very inexpensive.
So there you have it. I have also made the brown bread, and it is great, but I am still tweaking it.