No, not Boston baked beans, just ordinary baked beans. It’s been years since we’ve had baked beans, perhaps 20 years. Really. Now, of course, we don’t mean those “baked” beans that come from a can, we mean real baked beans, the kind you make yourself. In the oven. Now, we’re not sure why we haven’t made baked beans in so long, although we do remember that the last batch of baked beans we made was a bit undercooked, resulting in beans that were somewhat crunchy. Perhaps that’s why.
So, we thought that we’d at least try again; after all, we like the slow cooked flavor of molasses, spices, and beans. And, they make a nice nutritious side dish — nearly everyone should eat more legumes; they’re inexpensive, tasty, and good for you.
Since it had been so many years since we last made baked beans, we headed off into the library here at Scratchin’ Central and searched through The Joy of Cooking, by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, because we knew they would have a simple, but good, version. We, of course, took some liberties with the ingredients, and you should, too. Make them your home-scratched baked beans.
Obviously, the key here is the beans; we used great northern beans, but we bet you can make baked beans with any type of beans. Sure, that’s a small amount of tomato paste, and that’s only because the original recipe called for ketchup (which we never have in the house, as we don’t eat it), but we did have a tube of tomato paste.
Procedure in detail:
Soak beans. Place the beans in a large saucepan (you’ll use the same one for cooking the beans) and cover with several inches of water. Cover and let the beans soak overnight. This really helps the beans cook faster the next day, plus it helps to get rid of the enzyme in beans responsible for their gaseous side effects.
Drain and rinse. The next day, drain the beans in a colander and give them a good rinsing. Pick through and remove any small rocks that you see, along with any beans that don’t look good.
Cook beans. Put the beans back in the saucepan and cover with water. About 4 cups of water seemed perfect. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer. Cover partway and cook until the beans are tender, anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes, depending on the size of the beans, how old they are, the phase of the moon, etc.
Drain beans. This time, drain the beans into a colander set over a large bowl. You’ll want some of that bean liquid later. How much? We can’t say, so save it all for now.
Preheat oven to 250°F. Low and slow is the way to bake beans, so the oven only needs to be set to 250°F. While you’re at it, give a 2-quart baking pan (preferably with lid) a greasing.
Mix. Pour the beans into the prepared pan, add onions, molasses, tomato paste, and, well, everything on the ingredient list. Then add 1/2 cup of that reserved bean liquid (don’t discard the rest, you may need it later), and stir until the beans are coated. You can keep the reserved liquid in the refrigerator.
Bake. Cover the beans and bake for 6 to 9 hours, stirring every couple of hours. When you stir the beans, check to see how much liquid remains. If the beans are getting dry, well, you have reserved bean liquid you can add. Add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup at a time.
Uncover. During the last hour of baking, remove the lid from the beans and let them bake just as they are.
While we didn’t have them as a side immediately after baking these, we did try some throughout the day. They just kept getting better and better, and, after about 6 hours, we took them out to cool, so we could have our beans the next day (it’s going to be a busy day, so we needed something that we can just whip up on a moment’s notice). Overall, we’ll say that these beans could have used a bit more tomato paste, but the flavor was delicious. And, since there was almost no work on our part (the beans pretty much just cooked without intervention), four stars.