Slow, savory baked beans

December 06, 2006|By Robin Mather Jenkins | Robin Mather Jenkins,Chicago Tribune

Well, yes, you could just open a can. But homemade baked beans offer much, much more. They offer a connection to the past.

One of my favorite food writers, Della Lutes, opens her 1935 classic The Country Kitchen with an accounting of her father's birthday feast in 1882: "A great pan of beans was baked, nice, white Michigan [or New York State] beans, soaked overnight, parboiled in the early morning with a pinch of soda, then washed in cold water and boiled again with a slab of salt pork and an onion, until the outer skin burst. They were then drained and seasoned with salt, pepper, mustard, a little vinegar and brown sugar, turned into a heavy tin pan, with the pork, slashed across the rind into small squares, adorning the centre, and baked until the beans were brought to a mealy consistency suitable for slicing when cold."

Robin Mather Jenkins writes for the Chicago Tribune, which provided the recipe analysis.

Michigan Baked Beans

Serves 4 to 6 -- Preparation time: 10 minutes / Soaking time: overnight / Cooking time: about 3 to 4 hours

1 pound dried navy beans, rinsed

1/2 pound salt pork, in 1 piece

1 large onion, stuck with 2 cloves

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons coarse brown mustard, such as Zatarain's Creole

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

freshly ground pepper

Place the beans in a large saucepan. Cover with cold water by a depth of 2 inches; soak at room temperature overnight. Drain; rinse. Drain; return the beans to the pan. Cover with cold water to a depth of 2 inches.

Add the salt pork, onion and baking soda to the beans. Cook over medium heat until the skins on the beans burst when you blow gently on one, about 1 hour. Drain the beans. Discard the onion; reserve the salt pork. (Reserve the broth if you like as a soup base.)

Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the beans in a large heavy casserole with a close-fitting lid. Combine mustard, vinegar and brown sugar; blend into beans. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cross-hatch the rind of the salt pork by making 1/4 -inch deep slashes in 2 directions. Nestle the salt pork in the casserole. Cover; cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are very tender, about 2 to 3 hours.

Per serving (based on 4 servings): 606 calories, 31 grams fat, 11 grams saturated fat, 32 milligrams cholesterol, 65 grams carbohydrate, 16 grams protein, 858 milligrams sodium, 18 grams fiber

Menu suggestion

Corn bread, Michigan baked beans, braised mixed greens dressed with pepper vinegar, hard cider, apple crisp

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