While I believe that the price of gas right now is actually a good thing in the long run – I fully expect that my next vehicle will get a hundred miles to the gallon, maybe more -, it sucks right now. Due to the fact that gas costs a million dollars, and also that we have visited home more weekends than not for what feels like months, we did not see John’s father for Father’s Day. Which was sad, but also delightful because, seriously, we have not spent enough time just hanging out around the house on a Sunday afternoon recently. Since it was a rainy, gloomy, chill Sunday afternoon I decided it would be nice to have something soothing cooking. I considered soup, due to my romantic notions about pots of soup simmering away on a rainy day. But instead I decided to celebrate John’s dad, even if we weren’t actually with him, with one of his specialities: Boston baked beans.
John’s dad is not a man who cooks a great deal. But there are two dishes that he just plain rocks: baked beans and drunken pork. I very much hope that his drunken pork recipe will eventually grace the pages of this blog, because it truly needs to be shared with the world. But today we’re talking baked beans, my second favorite thing George makes. I had never had baked beans before I joined John’s family. There are some classic American foods my family just never did get on board with, and that was one of them. So I was amazed when I tried George’s baked beans and found out what I’d been missing.
This time, I didn’t use George’s recipe, as I’ve got The Way We Cook out of the library, and the baked bean recipe in it allowed me to take the easy way out and just order some ham cut quite thick at the deli counter. (If someone would like to explain in the comments what exactly salt pork is and precisely where I can find it in my grocery store, that would be great. Bonus if you can tell me exactly what it looks like. As a former vegetarian I have a very hard time buying even the most common meats for the first time, due to sheer ignorance and my fear of embarassing myself at the grocery store.) And since this book is written by the women behind one of the Boston Globe’s food columns, I sort of expected that they should know Boston baked beans.
And they did. I think. Mind you, I don’t know baked beans at all. But John liked them, although they weren’t quite like his dad’s. So I can’t tell you if this recipe will help you replicate your great-grandmother’s award winning baked beans, or even if it will be better than the beans your dad made, because I have a limited knowledge of what Boston baked beans should taste like. But I can tell you these tasted very good. They were sweet and thick, perfectly accompanied by the cornbread I made to go with them. As you can see, they weren’t exactly gorgeous, but when are baked beans ever pretty?
Boston Baked Beans
The Way We Cook, by Sheryl Julian and Julie Riven
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
2 thick slices (about 1/2 pound total) flavorful baked ham (such as Westphalian or Black Forest), cust into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons molasses
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon ground ginger
6 cups water, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
Place the beans in a bowl and cover them with cold water. Set them aside to soak overnight, or for at least 8 hours.
Se the oven to 300 degrees.
Heat the oil in a flameproof casserole (I made due with a regular pot) and cook the onions over medium heat, stirring often, for 10 minutes, or until they soften.
Drain the beans and add them to the onions. Add the ham, brown sugar, molasses, maple syrup, tomato paste, mustard, ginger, and 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil and cover the pan.
Bake for 4 hours, checking the beans every hour, stirring, and adding more water to the pan, 1/4 cup at a time, if they seem dry. Add the salt and pepper. Let the beans settle for 15 minutes before serving, or let them cool to room temperature and refrigerate until ready to use.
To store and reheat the beans: Cover the pan and regrigerate the beans for up to 5 days. Set the pan over medium heat and stir the beans. If they have absorbed all their liquid, add water, 1/4 cup at a time, until the beans are a consistency you like. Reduce the heat to low and let simmer for 10 minutes, stirring often, until they are very hot.