My mom was famous for her Boston Baked Beans. They were dark and rich, sweet and a little tangy--with molasses and spicy mustard for a little bite. I’d get so happy when I saw she’d picked up the ingredients to make them! There is nothing like sitting down to a big breakfast (or dinner!) of steak, eggs and baked beans. Steak? Yes. I’m not sure if that’s just a New England thing. I was talking to a friend in Texas about it once, and she thought we were crazy! It’s not an everyday thing, mind you--just occasionally. If you haven’t had it, you should at least once. If you’ve never attended a traditional New England Ham and Bean Supper, again--you should--at least once. You can find one in any given town on any given Saturday evening in any given church.
There was nothing more disappointing, though, than going to a family get together where someone else made the beans. It meant that they’d opened a few large cans of baked beans and doctored them up. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But I’d been spoiled. Spoiled to the point where I could go into any breakfast joint and judge them solely on their beans. What a brat I was!
My mom passed away six years ago, and I sadly didn’t know how to make her beans. I knew a few key things, but never really paid enough attention to the process. All this time, I’ve been trying to decipher the code and find the right combination of ingredients. The correct process--the right cooking time. I can’t tell you how many batches of beans went untouched. Too many were too salty, too runny, too overcooked, just too wrong. I’ve been faithfully using her cast iron Dutch oven, too. It’s about the only action that pot has seen in the last six years. She always used a slow cooker, but I don’t have one. And the cast iron pot makes me feel like a pioneer, slaving over a hot bed of coals for her family. Do. Not. Laugh!
I’m thrilled to say that I think I’ve gotten as close as I’m ever going to get with this recipe. I based it on a recipe I found at Saveur. It seemed fairly close to what my mom did, aside from a few key things. I took those key things and applied them here--and jackpot! Or rather, bean pot! See what I did there?
Mom's Slow Cooked Boston Baked Beans
Serves about 6-8
Adapted from Saveur
Total cooking time: approx. 10-10/12 hours
Be aware that the beans need 90 minutes of soaking time before you can proceed with the recipe. I always seem to forget that and get so mad at myself!
1 lb. dried navy beans, picked over for pebbles and rinsed
1 medium yellow onion, diced fairly small
1-2 pinches ground cloves
8 oz meaty uncooked bacon, diced (I use an uncured applewood smoked)
1/4 cup plus about 2 tbsp real maple syrup
3/4 cup molasses (NOT Blackstrap, just regular)
Generous 1/2 cup spicy brown mustard (I use Kosciusko Spicy Brown, half of a 9 oz jar)
3 cups boiling water
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tbsp cider vinegar
In a large saucepan, bring the beans and 10 cups of water to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, then remove from heat, pop the lid on, and let them sit for 90 minutes. Drain the beans and discard the liquid.
Heat the oven to 250 degrees.
In a 4 quart Dutch oven, add the beans, onions, cloves, bacon, maple syrup, molasses, mustard and water. Stir to combine. Put the lid on the pot and place it in the oven. Cook for 3 hours. After the 3 hours, stir in the ketchup and vinegar. Put the lid back on and cook 5-6 more hours.
When the beans are dark brown and tender, and the glaze is nice and thick, they're done. I find I don't need to add any salt or pepper after cooking, but I'll leave that up to you. Store any leftovers in the fridge.
- My mom would start these late in the afternoon and let them cook all night long and late into the next morning. Her beans were seriously DARK. If you want to try that and let them go longer, I’d start stirring them after the 8th or 9th hour, and maybe turn the heat down to 200 degrees.
- Serve these, of course, with eggs for breakfast. They’ll be perfect at your next cookout alongside ribs, pulled pork, burgers, dogs--whatever.
- The mustard she used was always Kosciusko Spicy Brown Mustard, so that’s what I use. Use any one that’s convenient for you. And yes, add half of the 9 oz. jar! Trust me on this. It won’t taste like mustard at the end, I promise. That was one of her key things. “Use almost the whole jar of mustard.” I think that was for a doubled recipe, so I used about half.
- Her other key thing? Don’t put on onion in then take it out at the end--that’s silly. Dice an onion nice and small, and let it all cook down in there and stay in there. It all adds to the finished product.
- She used to use meaty salt pork, but for whatever reason, I can’t find any meaty salt pork. I use Trader Joe’s Bacon Ends and Pieces. It’s the meatiest bacon I’ve ever bought, and a total steal at $2.99! I probably shouldn’t be telling all of you about it, because you’ll all go buy it and leave none for me.