Yeah, I know it's been a while (uhhh...looks like three months to the day). I'd like to be able to say it's been all fun and games. We did get away for two glorious weeks on a deserted beach in the Bahamas. And I had Lasik surgery on my eyes. And I turned 50. Beyond that, it just hasn't been that interesting. I sent out an invoice last Friday for the draft I put together in June; I averaged 71 billable hours a week at the computer. That's really all you need to know.
So, beans. Baked beans. I love them. When I was a kid, one of my favorite dinners was franks and beans and brown bread. As a young bachelorette, when I could afford to be less cautious about my caloric intake, I would occasionally make my entire dinner of a can of baked beans – B&M, heavily doctored with chopped onion and strong mustard. Then one day, I learned to make them from scratch.
I bought myself a real crockery bean pot, and I've fiddled endlessly with the recipe (if you can imagine). This time around, I needed to make a whole mess of beans, like enough for 50 + people. My art school crowd is having an informal reunion (25th or so – several classes plus faculty are involved) this coming weekend, with a pot-luckish grill-y sort of dinner on Saturday night. I offered to make baked beans and Crack Slaw. Since I'm traveling for work this week (I'm writing this from my hotel room in Atlanta), I made the beans over the weekend.
My bean pot is good for a quart, maybe a quart and a half of beans. I needed to make something in the vicinity of 7 or 8 quarts. On the advice of my holistic vet, I've started home-cooking food for my aging and cancerous dog – for which purpose I acquired a 6-quart slow-cooker. I mean to post about home cooking for dogs, as it's been enormously satisfying for both the dog and me, but another time. The slow-cooker, though, seemed an ideal vessel for cooking the beans.
I started by cooking up 5 lbs. of dried navy beans, and did the second step of cooking the beans with all the goodies in the slow-cooker (in 2 batches over 2 days). You'd best believe I sampled amply (for purposes of quality control only, I assure you). And they are mighty fine. Sweet, but not too sweet, vaguely fiery, a little bit tart and tangy, and delightfully fatty from the pork.
If you love baked beans and you've never made your own, well...you owe it to yourself.
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- Any dried bean will do, I suppose, but I prefer and recommend a small light-colored bean. I used generic organic navy beans this time, but I made these last year with Ranch Gordo’s Yellow Indian Woman beans (currently sold out, I'm sorry to say) and they were about as good as it gets.
- When you buy salt pork, look for the slab that has the highest ratio of pink meat to fat. I’ve yet to find a source for organic and/or humane salt pork, and had to buy Hormel. Might just be time to learn me how to make my own (Pig Fat Follies, The Revival?).
- I cook with coarse kosher salt (Diamond brand). If you use a finer-grained salt, cut the quantity in half. You can always add more at the end if it needs it.
- The longer you cook them, the more the beans will break down and the thicker, more concentrated the ‘sauce’ will be.
2 lbs. dry white navy beans, cooked until tender but not mushy (10 – 12 cups)
1 very large white onion (or 2 medium ones), finely diced
8 oz. salt pork, cut into 3/4-in. cubes
6 oz. smoky bacon, very finely diced
1 ¼ c. molasses
½ c. packed dark brown sugar
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 c. cider vinegar
1 heaping tbsp. dry mustard
2 tsp. cayenne powder
5 tsp. coarse kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
In the crock of a large (5 – 6 qt.) slow-cooker, combine all of the ingredients except for the beans, and stir well to combine. Slowly and carefully mix in the beans, then add water to come just to the level of the beans. Put the lid on, set the cooker to low, and cook for 8 – 10 hours, stirring from time to time, until the liquid is thickened to your preference. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Alternatively, use a bean pot (halve the recipe) and cook in a 225°(F) oven for 10 – 12 hours, adding water if necessary to keep the beans from drying out.