Requiring Much Patience: Baked Beans

(Update: see recipe for revisions and commentary…)

There are a few things in life that test our patience.  Traffic jams.  3:00 pm on Friday at work.  Doing taxes.  Waiting for the ‘puter to load.  Filing.

People have said to me in an admiring fashion that I must have a lot of patience to knit.  Well, I don’t.  I am actually quite an impatient person.  This is why I always, without fail, burn my tongue with hot soup.  I feel that actually it is the other way around; knitting has taught me patience.  The act of knowing that in order to finish knitting a sock it takes a certain amount of inevitable time has taught me patience and to enjoy the process of what I am doing.  It is the zen of being in the now.

This, however, all went out the window today because mOm and I decided to bake beans.  Not just any beans, but the original Boston beans in a darling authentic Boston bean pot.

The Beans are A'Bakin'

(See, it’s even helpfully labelled in case you forget)

We put the bag of Boston pea beans to soak last night in a vast quantity of water and a good palmful of salt.

This morning, we drained them and put them in fresh water to cook with a nicely bundled bouquet garni (celery, parsley, thyme, bay leaf).  Brining them overnight really helps the beans to cook quickly.  Once they were done, 45 minutes later, tender but perfectly intact, we layered them in the bean pot for its maiden voyage.  They were snuggled together with thinly sliced salt pork and nice cubes of Easter ham, and topped with a soup of bean broth, black strap molasses, brown sugar, chopped onions, ketchup, dry mustard, salt and ground pepper.  Topped with its little cute lid, they went into bake.  For 5-8 hours.

So, we got started a little late this morning.  The fog hadn’t lifted in the corpuscles or brain pan and needed frequent applications of hot coffee.  A little breakfast was in order, as was the prerequisite period remaining absolutely frozen still in order to watch quail bob along the terrace.  Eventually, around 11:00 am, we felt compos mentis enough to handle a knife and in we went to the kitchen to assemble the beans.  Then we retired to the living room with another cuppa and various amusing volumes, the collected short stories of Lord Peter Wimsey for me and Dorothy L. Sayers Society monthly bulletins for March and January for mOm.  We wait for the beans. The house began to fill with an incredible savory scent after an hour, and after three hours we gave a peek within the pot.  Alas, no miracle had occurred, the beans were a long way away from being done.  At five hours we checked again, and again, the beans were just achieving a medium beige color and the onions were threatening to dissolve into a succulent mush.

Meanwhile, the aroma drove me outdoors.  I really just couldn’t stand the tease of the scent of onion and molasses and pork products emanating from the kitchen.  Fortunately the rain has stopped today and the porch was a pleasant place to sit and knit, accompanied by multitudes of birdsong.  It was deemed warm enough to open the front door to air out the house, meaning my tranquil perch was invaded by the ever alluring scent of baked beans.  I gave up trying to concentrate on knitting my sock, and wandered the terrace.  The weeds were mocking me so I began yanking them out by their roots like errant gray hairs, such a pleasant feeling of revenge.  And still I was tormented by the scent of baking beans.  The neighbor kids from the bottom of the cul-de-sac meandered by, walking their bikes up the formidable hill, and they paused near my parents’ mailbox.  I watched them out of the corner of my eye as I assiduously weeded, and noted they were sniffing the air, like a hungry pack of dogs that only preteen little boys can emulate.

Finally, at 5:00 pm, I checked the beans again.  Alas, still not done.  We changed the linens, folded laundry, uploaded pictures from the Flip, watched the news, checked email, pacing the house like lions before mealtime.  It’s after 6:00 pm and the beans are still not done.  I think I may never survive this process.

If you would like to similarly torture yourself, here is the recipe.  If I survive this torment and long wait, I will post a picture tomorrow of the finished beans.  In the meantime, be very glad that we have not yet developed the capability of smell-o-blogs.

Baked Beans

1 # dry pea beans or navy beans
1 Bay leaf
1 celery rib, halved
3 sprigs of flat-leaf parsley
1 sprig thyme
1/2 # salt pork
1 large slice baked ham
1 cup c molasses, black strap preferred
1 T dry mustard
1 c ketchup
1 c dark brown sugar
1 T salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, chopped
1 c dry sherry

Soak the beans overnight in a very large pot with copious amounts of water and 3 T of Kosher salt.  Drain the next morning.  Replace into the pot, and cover generously with cold water (at least 2″ above the surface of the beans).  Make a bundle of the celery, parsley, thyme and Bay leaf and secure with string, leaving a 6″ tail.  Place in pot and tie the tail to the handle of a wooden spoon, which rests at an angle at the top of the pot.  Simmer the beans gently for 30-60 minutes until tender but intact, and the skins blow off when blown upon lightly.

Drain beans, reserving the broth.

Meanwhile, chop the onion, and divide the salt pork into 2 pieces.  Thinly slice one piece and deeply score the skin side of the second piece.

Preheat the oven to 300 F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet heavily with foil.

In the bean pot or a large covered casserole, layer half of the beans and half of the diced ham and all of the sliced salt pork.  Gently pour the remaining half of the beans and add the remaining half of the diced ham and the scored chunk of salt pork.

Mix together 8 c of the bean broth (we had 5 c and this was plenty) with the molasses, brown sugar, dry mustard, ketchup, salt and pepper and chopped onions.  Mix well and pour this gently over the beans.

Cover the beans and bake 7-8 hours.  An hour before they are done, meaning the beans have achieved a dark brown hue like good polished walnut, add the sherry.  Cover the pot again and bake one more hour.


I cannot emphasize strongly enough that one should make these beans the day or two before the target service date.  And one should be outdoors during this baking process, else sanity may be lost.


Update:  After baking for 6 1/2 hours, the beans finally achieved that dark brown hue we associate with properly baked beans.  The flavoring was a bit bland to our taste though, so we updated the recipe above with additional quantities of ingredients, which helped achieve the desired taste we wanted.  They could have baked another 2 hours though, to deepen the flavors, so we changed the baking time to 7-8 hours minimum.

For dinner last night we each had a nice bowl of baked beans, a slice of ham and some fresh pineapple.  It was heavenly.  I even considered having hot beans on toast this morning, in the English fashion.

The Boston Bean pot was incredible.  Mom bought it because it was so cute and our family loves baked beans.  After the 6 1/2 hours in the oven, the pot was crusted with thick, dark, burned-on bean juice and I thought it would have to soak all night in order to wash up.  Mom took a gentle scrub brush to it and all the baked on crusts and stains just wiped away! It must be the heavy glaze on the pot or something.  It was well worth the minor investment and the cupboard space!  Check them out!


5 responses to “Requiring Much Patience: Baked Beans

  1. Next time leave out the salt until the beans are done … they will be softer.

    • Hi Michael, It’s really interesting, there is a lot of debate about salting beans while cooking, or not. Cooks Illustrated did their usual battery of experiments and found that salting the beans during the soaking period makes for a more tender bean. I tried it and love it. The time the beans take to turn from pure white to walnut brown for baked beans, sadly, takes *forever*!! But oh is it worth it….

  2. Sounds really good…. great post as always!

  3. mUm in the Mountains

    Beans for breakfast??? Mais non! but beans for lunch, ah! ambrosia. They warmed my heart and I stopped grumbling at the space my cupboards yielded to the bean pot.

    • I’m eating these beans now, they are so good mOm. Thank you for making them. I really think the cup of sherry is a touch of brilliance.

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