Growing up, baked beans was a traditional Saturday night supper in our household. While I haven’t continued the Saturday night tradition, I do frequently have baked beans on the menu.
Baked beans make a very economical dish and freeze well for reheating later in the microwave. These are a staple packaged in meal-portion sized dishes in my freezer. I will make up a large batch and then divide them into serving sized containers that will freeze well. I serve baked beans with homemade bread and molasses and mustard pickles and sometimes tomato chow. When prepared ahead, they make a quick and nutritious meal.
We know beans are a good source of fiber and protein so they are good for our diet. Making your own homemade beans is not difficult although it is a somewhat lengthy process: The beans have to be soaked in water overnight, pre-cooked for about an hour or so, then baked in the oven for about 3 hours. The bonus of homemade beans, however, is that they taste so much better than canned beans off the store shelf.
I like to use yellow-eye beans as I find they cook well and are not hard as I find dark beans to be. My grandmother always grew the dark beans solely for the purpose of drying them and using them to make baked beans. I always found the beans to be very hard despite that she would have baked them in a bean crock in the wood stove oven for hours and hours.
Soaking the dried beans accomplishes three things:
1) It softens the beans and lessens the cooking and baking times (the beans also expand to double or triple their size in the soaking process);
2) It allows the beans to absorb the liquid (become rehydrated) thus they will cook more evenly and hold their shape when baked (i.e., they won’t split open or become mushy)
3) It removes the indigestible complex sugars, making the beans easier to digest.
The jury is still out on adding a small amount of baking soda to the cooking process of the beans. Some say doing so will make the beans more tender, particularly if the water is hard. Others claim the soda may also aid in digesting the beans while others subscribe to the theory that the baking soda does nothing for the beans. My mother always added the baking soda to the beans and I continue the practice of adding 1/2 tsp of baking soda when cooking beans. I figure 1/2 tsp will not harm the beans and, if it does do some good, so much the better.
Beans, on their own with no seasonings, can be very bland and tasteless. I don’t think my grandmother added much to her baked beans other than some molasses, brown sugar, and water. My mother always added some onion and ground mustard along with molasses, brown sugar, and water but very little else. I like to gently spice the beans up a bit and, over the years, have perfected a recipe that suits my taste. When an ingredient calls for a “dash”, I use an actual measuring spoon that has the “dash” as a measurement. Spices, and the amount added, are very much a personal preference so each cook should adjust them to his or her own tastes. My recommendation, of course, is to make the recipe the first time using the measurements called for and then decide what needs to be adjusted for the next time. As well, if there is a particular spice that you absolutely do not like, simply omit it. The recipe that I have developed does not use large amounts of any one spice. I did this because I still wanted the original bean taste and didn’t want any particular spice to overpower the natural taste of a traditional baked beans dish.
Some like to add salt pork, regular bacon, or cut-up weiners to the baked beans. I prefer just the beans but that is a personal preference and meats can certainly be added, if desired.
As those of you who have been following my blog will know, I recently went to Woodville Mills, near Cardigan, PEI, to visit a sugar shack that was in operation producing maple syrup. Since I like to add some maple syrup to my baked beans, I thought this was a good time to share my recipe with you so, here it is. Enjoy!
My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Maple Syrup Baked Beans
- 1 pound yellow eye beans
- 4 cups cold water
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp garlic purée
- dash cayenne pepper
- dash ground ginger
- dash chili powder
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- 1 tsp ground mustard
- 1 tsp liquid chicken bouillon
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
- 1/2 cup molasses
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tbsp barbeque sauce
- 1 – 1 1/2 tbsp rum (optional)
- 1/3 cup onion chopped
- 3 cups reserved liquid from cooked beans
Place beans in large bowl. Add enough cold water to completely cover the beans. Cover. Soak overnight.
Drain soaked beans in colander. Discard water. Place beans in large pot and add 4 cups fresh cold water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and add 1/2 tsp baking soda. Cover and simmer for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally and fork-testing beans for doneness. Beans should still be firm but not hard when cooked. Do not overcook or beans will become mushy and lose their shape.
Drain the beans in large colander, reserving the liquid. Set liquid aside. Rinse the beans with cold water. Place beans in 2-quart casserole or small roaster pan. Add remaining ingredients and 3 cups of the reserved liquid. Stir gently until well combined.
Bake, covered, in 300F oven for about 3 hours or until beans are fork-tender. Check beans 2-3 times during baking and add more liquid if needed.