Baked beans from scratch | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Baked beans from scratch

The big mystery was when they’d turn that pleasingly mellow brown

"Baked beans,” she said. 

There was a neighborhood holiday potluck the next day, and my wife’s idea was to decant some canned baked beans, season with bacon, and call it a day. I thought the occasion called for home cooking, and turned to our oft-used Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. It’s the 1968 edition (nearly as old as us), a five-ring-binder affair whose hundreds of entries include candy recipes, mid-century delectations (“Glorified Rice”) and ventures into the exotic (“Tamale Pie”). 

The baked beans recipe did not look too hard.

  • 1 pound dry navy beans
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • ¼ pound bacon *
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
* The original says “salt pork,” but I had no idea where to get it, and few of us mind bacon.

Soak the beans overnight and cook in salted water until tender. Drain, reserving liquid. To two cups of the liquid, add the sugar, mustard and molasses. In a two-quart bean pot or casserole dish, combine beans, onion and chopped bacon. Pour liquid over. Cover and bake at 300 degrees for five to seven hours, adding liquid as needed.

That’s a lot of oven time, and I wondered whether our slow-cooker would work just as well. Answer: no. I had doubled the recipe, and after two hours on “high,” little actual cooking had transpired, and the temp seemed nowhere near 300 degrees. I transferred everything into a big stainless-steel pot and stuck it in the oven, as directed, duh.

Navy beans are white, and for me the big mystery was how and when they’d turn that pleasingly mellow brown so familiar from countless cans of Heinz product. When I checked in to stir the little guys after two hours in the oven, it hadn’t happened yet. But five hours of oven time did the trick.

Next time I’ll go more sparingly on the liquid, as this batch was a little soupy. But otherwise these beans looked right and tasted fine, and I didn’t in the least mind taking leftovers home from the party.

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