Recipe of the week.
Dark, porky, and rich, with a slight bitterness from the molasses, this is as Boston as it gets, and the taste of these beans resonates in my umpteenth-generation native New England soul. Seven ingredients and deliberate inattention give fabulous results.
Boston Baked Beans (Adapted from the Fannie Farmer cookbook)
2 cups navy beans
about 1 tsp. salt
1/4-1/3 lb. salt pork
2 tsp. dry mustard
5 Tbs. dark brown sugar
5 Tbs. molasses (not blackstrap)
1 small onion, sliced
Wash beans, and soak overnight in enough water to come up one inch over the beans.
Drain the beans and reserve the liquid. Preheat oven to 225F. Distribute sliced onion and 1/2 of the salt pork over the bottom of an ovenproof, lidded pot. Add the beans to the pot. Blend the mustard, sugar, salt, and molasses with the reserved bean liquid, and pour over the beans. Slice the remaining salt pork and distribute over the top of the beans. Set the pot on the stove over medium-high heat, and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, cover tightly with foil and the lid. Set in the middle of the preheated oven and cook for at least 8 hours. Mine went in the oven at about 10pm, and stayed in all night. If you happen to get up in the middle of the night for a glass of water, or to let the cat out, go ahead and give the pot a stir or add a little water, but honestly, it can go until morning without being fussed over.
In the morning, take off the foil and lid and put the pot back in the oven for a couple of hours. Stir it from time to time, and add a little water if it looks too dry, but the goal here is to reduce the sauce so don’t go all crazy with the liquid. Take the pot out once they have reached the desired consistency, fish out what’s left of the salt pork. Taste and correct the seasoning, then add a tablespoon or so of cider vinegar to wake up the flavors.
The beans can be served right away and be delicious, but letting them sit for a couple of hours won’t do them any harm.
If you want to really provide an authentic experience, consider making a batch of brown bread.
Boston Brown Bread (adapted from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook)
The traditional accompaniment to baked beans. It’s worth seeking out a real metal coffee can in order to make this from scratch, but it’s possible to find a passable version made by B&M at some grocery stores. This bread is related to a loaf called “Rye & Injun” made by early New England settlers.
1/2 c. rye flour
1/2 c. cornmeal
1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 c. molasses (not blackstrap)
1 c. sour milk (I have used buttermilk with good results)
Mix the flours, cornmeal, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the molasses and sour milk and blend well. Butter a 1-pound coffee can (or a 1-quart pudding mold, if you have one)and fill no more than 2/3 full. Cover tightly with foil, tie a string around the foil, and put the can in a deep kettle. Cover, add boiling water halfway up the mold, and steam over medium heat for about 2 hours. Add boiling water as necessary to keep the water level consistent. Remove from the mold.
The original recipe says to cut slices with a string while the bread is hot, but I prefer to let it cool and spread it thickly with butter.