A couple of times a year, I take my bean pot from the top of the cabinet, give it a good scrub and make baked beans. The recipe I use is similar to the one in Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking School Cook Book (1896) and every other classic New England cookbook. It's simple - only six ingredients including the beans. I'd always assumed the recipe was similar to the one supposedly baked by the Penobscot and Iroquois indians and shared with the Pilgrims, so you can imagine how surprised I was when I read that American Indians baked beans with maple syrup and bear fat.
In what might have been the country's first bit of culinary tinkering, the Massachusetts Colonists made a few changes to the recipe, using molasses instead of maple syrup and salt pork instead of bear. They baked beans Saturday, often in the oven at a tavern where everyone else baked their beans, and ate them for supper. On Sunday, when cooking was not permitted for religious reasons, they ate beans with brown bread and crab cakes.
BOSTON BAKED BEANS
1 pound dried navy beans
2 medium onions, vertically sliced
1/2 cup molasses
1 tablespoon brown sugar
4 teaspoons brown mustard
1/2 pound salt pork or country ham
1 teaspoon salt
Black pepper to taste
Place beans in a large bowl and add enough cold water to cover by about 1 inch. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, drain and rinse beans. Place in a large pot and cover with 2 quarts cold water. Cover and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 30 to 45 minutes or until shells crack. Drain, reserving cooking water.
Heat oven to 250. Place onions in bottom of a 2-quart bean pot or casserole dish and add beans. In a large bowl, combine molasses, sugar, mustard and about 1 cups cooking water and pour over beans.
Add more cooking water if needed to cover beans. Place salt pork on top and tuck in slightly. Cover and bake 7 to 8 hours. Check occasionally and add more of the reserved bean cooking water as necessary to keep beans covered. Serves 8.
NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION PER SERVING: 380 calories, 12 grams fat, 14 grams protein, 54 grams carbs, 15 grams fiber, 530 milligrams sodium.
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