I’ve been meaning to post this recipe for a while now, and now that it’s finally breaking 80 degrees for a glorious July 4 weekend, it seems like a perfect idea to turn on your oven for four hours. Yeah, sorry.
But if you’re yearning for a better class of baked beans, baked beans with a difference that are simple as turning on the oven, read on. And what better for your Independence Day BBQ?
Growing up, we didn’t eat many pulses since my Mom doesn’t like them. But one thing we did eat was pork-n-beans straight from the can (thanks to my Dad). I liked the sweetness and the mushy, starchy texture of the beans. They often came with a funny, rubbery piece of fat in them that was as intriguing as it was unpleasant. I always ended up with the fat piece, somehow. I’d ponder it while I ate: is that the pork? Why doesn’t it have any meat on it? These beans don’t taste like pork. Is that real pork or fake?
These are not the questions one should be asking while eating food. And they won’t be questions you’ll be asking when you make this recipe.
I recently bought a sweet little flame-colored vintage Descoware cocotte, thinking it would be perfect for cooking à deux, as I do. Turns out it’s a perfect bean-baking pot when you don’t want enough beans to fuel a party.
And I also happened to have some Ayers Creek-grown tarbais beans, a glossy, large white dried bean used in the winters in France for cassoulet.
I had molasses and extra-smoked (he’d say over-smoked, but I disagree) bacon from my friend Del’s smokehouse operation out at Laughing Stock Farm.
A perfect storm for baked beans.
The tarbais hold up beautifully with long cooking, and they were meatier than the regular navy beans we’re used to in Heinz’s cans. Finally, I had a pork-n-beans that was less about the sweet tomatoey sauce and pork fat than the beans themselves — toothsome, dense, creamy beans.
You’ll need to soak the beans for a few hours or overnight, so start now. This recipe is much smaller than the usual baked beans recipe, calling only for a cup of beans, so you’ll have to use a small dutch oven or lidded casserole. Feel free to double the recipe, but cooking times may need to be longer. Another option is to cook the beans in your slow-cooker, then reduce the sauce in the oven. I haven’t done this because my slow-cooker is too large for such as small amount.
Note: in Eugene, you can buy tarbais at Provisions. Lonesome Whistle has slightly greenish flageolets and yellow arikara beans that would be excellent. Also consider steuben beans, or similar yellow-eyes or soldier beans, all of which are classified as an early American bean used for baked beans.
Baked Heirloom Beans with Pork and Molasses
Serves 4 as a side dish
- 1 cup dried large white beans (tarbais, flageolet, Great Northern, navy, yellow-eyes)
- 1 piece whole very smokey, thick-cut bacon, chopped finely (vegetarians may want to use liquid smoke, I suppose)
- 1/2 medium white onion, chopped
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard (optional — I like the crunch of the seeds)
- 2-3 tablespoons of ketchup (optional — I use my homemade stuff for another layer of flavor)
- salt to taste (try 1 teaspoon first)
Soak beans for several hours or overnight in water to cover. Preheat the oven to 325. Brown chopped bacon and onion until onion is golden brown; drain excess fat and place in your dutch oven or other oven-safe casserole. Drain beans, and add to dutch oven and cover. Add rest of ingredients to pot, then add enough water to cover the beans by about two inches.
Place in oven and cook until beans are tender, about 3 hours, depending on how old the beans are. This year’s crop will take significantly less time.
When the beans are tender but not falling apart, raise heat to 350 and remove cover. Taste liquid and adjust salt (it shouldn’t be too salty, as the liquid will be reducing, but shouldn’t be completely bland, either.) The increased heat will boil away excess liquid to a syrup. Watch the beans at this point so they don’t burn in the process. Let cook for 30 minutes, then check in 15-minute intervals until the beans are a consistency you like.