Sunday, January 15, 2012

Recipe: Nova Scotia Molasses Baked Beans

Beans are neither fruit nor musical. – Bart Simpson

Saturday dinner, as homey as you can get...
There’s a few recipes that everyone should be able to pull off. Apple pie is one. So is a good chocolate cake (which reminds me I haven’t posted one…).

Two more are molasses baked beans and classic brown bread. We all know about baked beans, if only from a can. The brown bread I mean is baked molasses bread. It is NOT Boston brown bread. These two recipes were staples of our Saturday dinners when I was growing up. I remember Saturdays with the Bugs Bunny show, beans and brown bread. The three go together in my mind as a single memory.

My mother made baked beans, my father made baked beans. So did my Great Aunts Hilda and Nettie and my grandmother. And if you ventured to a church or firehall supper you couldn't avoid them. Everyone's beans were just slightly different and villagers had their favourites – sometimes not their spouses! 

Today I'm posting the baked beans I remember. I’ll be posting the Nova Scotia brown bread to accompany it in a day or two. Wait until you see it. Better than I remember! With these two recipes you too can have a Saturday dinner (next weekend) from my childhood. Just rent some old cartoons or find a TV channel that still broadcasts them.

We always used red kidney beans and no other.
Photo: mtsn, Flickr ccl
History of Baked Beans
Baked beans (or recipes similar) have been part of the European diet for centuries. Columbus brought beans back with him on one of his voyages and their use spread quickly. Before that time American natives used them in their cooking, possibly for thousands of years.

Baked beans as we know them are believed to be based on a Native American dish in which beans were cooked with fat and maple syrup. CExisting recipes show that Colonial settlers prepared a version close to today's baked beans using pork and molasses.

There is an alternate theory that the recipe is an altered form of the classic French dish cassoulet. Most European nations have some form of a baked bean dish, and some claim theirs as the origin, especially those with a seafaring heritage. The truth is lost in the mists of time.

Regardless, baked beans are two styles now, for the most part. One is tomato based, which I really don't like. The other is the one from my childhood: the molasses version. This is my recipe for that favourite which brings back such warm memories.

Remember when cooking beans that they are done when you think they are done. Of course the liquid has to be reduced, but some people like harder beans and others very soft. Therefore time is always given as between "this and that."

Just don’t let them dry out. That would be a burnt disaster!

All ready to go into the oven. 3-4 hours transforms this soup
into something completely amazing.
Molasses Baked Beans
Time: soak overnight; bake 3 to 4 hours
2 cups red kidney beans
1/2 lb bacon (6-8 rashers), cut into 1” pieces
1 medium onion, finely diced
5 tbsp molasses
2 tsp salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tbsp dry mustard
1/4 cup ketchup (if using tomato sauce or paste you may need to adjust the sweetness somewhere else)
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
more molasses or brown sugar (part-way through)

Soak beans overnight in lots of cold water. Simmer the beans in the same water until tender, approximately 1 hour. Drain and reserve the liquid.

Preheat oven to 325°F (165 °C).

After 3-1/2 hours. Make sure they don't dry out, or
you'll have a real mess.
Place the beans in a bean crock or Dutch oven. Add the remaining ingredients. Add just enough reserved water to cover the beans. Add more water if necessary. Bring back to a simmer on top of the stove.

Place a piece of aluminum foil between the pot and the lid and place in the preheated oven.

Bake for 3 to 4 hours until beans are tender. About 1/2 way through taste for salt and sweetness. If not sweet enough, stir in some more molasses or 1/4 cup brown sugar. I did. I like mine on the sweet side.

Remove the lid at the halfway point and add more liquid if necessary to prevent the beans from getting too dry. Continue to bake, checking frequently, until the beans are cooked to your liking. I prefer my beans still somewhat firm.


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  1. another gem that makes me think of the past!

  2. There is for sure nothing like home made beans and brown bread together, we never had one without the other. Of course I am from N.S.

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