My favorite season is upon us, the season of church suppers. Last night our church in Waits River had a Baked Bean and Ham Supper. If you like church suppers, this is one of the best, and I baked the beans. Yup, I did, and this is our church in Waits River in the picture.
I’ll have to back up here a bit and explain. I love baked beans, good ones, that is. My grandmother always made baked beans, and there was a time that you could count on somebody bringing baked beans to some sort of a gathering. Well, those days are quite as dependable as they used to be.
Susan, my wife, has never been especially fond of baked beans, and I could see she would not be the one to carry on the tradition. So, I took it upon myself to learn how to make baked beans. I asked my grandmother for help, and she told me how she baked beans. I asked another family member, my great aunt Elsie Riddel how she made baked beans and the two recipes were very close, if not the same.
Well, like most new adventures, this one was just waiting for me to stick my big toe in the water. I did.
They are really an easy dish, but you can mess them up too. If you follow the recipe I have, you cannot go wrong. You need to start with State of Maine yellow eye beans, not soldier beans, yellow eyes. You will need some good molasses, some good Vermont maple syrup, about half a pound of salt pork for a two pound bean pot, some dry mustard, a pinch of salt and a pinch of black pepper, and a medium sized onion.
To start with, soak your beans overnight. The next morning, get your beans boiling. I use a roasting pan with a cover that is sometimes called a beaner. You will want to gently boil your beans for about 20-30 minutes. You will know they are ready when you can take a few on a spoon and blow on them. You should see the skins on the beans split and wrinkle. Then, they are ready for the bean pot.
My kids gave me a crockware bean pot many years ago for Christmas. This one is made in Canada and looks like crockware or stone ware. It is meant for baking beans. I will put a pealed medium sized onion in the bottom of the pot and dump my par-boiled beans on top of the onion. The onion will find its way to the top of the pot during the baking.
Next, you want to mix about a cup of molasses, one-half or so cup of maple syrup, two teaspoons of dry mustard, a pinch of salt and and pinch of black pepper in a small mixing bowl. I add a little hot water to the mix that I have heated in a tea kettle on the stove. This helps it all flow around the beans better when you dump it in the bean pot over the beans. A word to the wise, don’t over do the maple syrup as your beans will be too sweet and apt to be mushy too. And, no, you do not need to add any sugar to this mix. The molasses and maple syrup will do just fine as sweeteners.
Now, take your salt pork and use a sharp knife to score the rind. You do not want to cut all the way through the rind, just score it. This will it break up in the beans during the baking. Get a good piece of salt pork, about half a pound, and not all fat, you want some lean to it too.
Take your scored piece of salt pork and put it on top of the beans in the bean pot. Add more water to just cover your beans, put the cover back on the beanpot, and then bake in your preheated oven at 350 for about 3 hours. You should check your beans after an hour or so, and again after two hours to make sure they are not baking dry. If they are not still just submerged in the juice, add a little bit more water to keep them from baking dry.
You will notice the most wonderful smells filling your kitchen as you bake these beans. It will say “it’s fall in Vermont” to you over and over again. Enjoy this wonderful dish and it will become a favorite for family and friend gatherings.
To get back to the story of our church supper, I took my baked beans last night and they were served first, and damn, they were all gone, so I have none left to bring home. The ladies at the church like my beans and they put them out first in the supper. Now, I’ve got to make some more for home. Oh well, I am glad everybody likes them. And, if you really want to get clever here, add some nice brown bread. Serve it warm with the beans and some good Vermont butter, never mind the margarines and the other fake crap, get real butter.
I’ll tell the story of the pig in the poke another time.