I grew up, as many of my contemporaries have, on Maine baked beans. A little sweet, a little savory, they were a Saturday evening staple in my home (usually served with hot dogs) and many other in the state. We’ve built a sort of culture around them — take a drive through small-town Maine on any given week and you’re as likely as not to see a sign outside some community church advertising their pot luck bean supper. Sometimes, Mom wouldn’t have the time to make her own, and she’d crack open a can of B&M, but most Friday nights would see a bean pot full of beans soaking on the back burner of our stove, and most Saturday afternoons were filled with the aroma of beans baking low and slow for our evening meal.
One of the primary ingredients in Mom’s baked beans was salt pork, and of course I recently made my own, so this was the perfect time to try it out and see if my method worked out. One concern for me was that Ian’s not a fan of sweet baked beans, so most recipes, containing too much molasses, brown sugar, maple syrup or other sweetening agents wouldn’t cut it for us. I played around with the classic ingredients my mother always included in her own recipe, added a few different ones, and crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.
Most people in Maine who make their own baked beans swear by clay bean pots, which bake in the oven for large portions of the day on low heat. Some claim that the crock pot is just as good. So, since the bag of beans I purchased was too large for my bean pot, I decided to give both methods a try and let the results speak for themselves.
- 1 lb beans (Great Northern or Navy are best, but I used pintos, because that’s all Target had and I was there for something else anyway)
- 1/2 lb salt pork, cubed
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1/2 c ketchup
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tbsp molasses
- 1 tbsp dry mustard
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
The first thing you want to do is soak your beans. Overnight is best, but you can cheat it a bit by bringing them to a boil. Ian’s uncle Forrest suggests soaking them with a tablespoon of baking soda to alleviate some of the gas that eating beans can create (but I forgot to take his suggestion this time.) Pick out any nasty-looking floaters (and any rocks that might have made it past the winnowing process in the factory — it happens) and drain the beans.
Put the beans into your bean pot with the onion and salt pork, add your other ingredients, and cover with water. Cook for 5 hours at 300°F, checking occasionally for doneness, and to add more liquid as necessary. Or, put everything in a crock pot,cover with water, and cook on high for 6 hours or more, also checking for doneness occasionally.
Ultimately I felt that the beans in the ceramic pot cooked faster and were more tender, but required more babysitting than the crock pot to ensure they didn’t dry out. I ended up mixing the two together, because we found we enjoyed the variety in texture.