Classics: Boston Baked Beans

There’s a reason bean suppers continue to be a Saturday night staple in the white-clapboarded churches up and down the coast of Maine: these baked beans take all day to cook, are inexpensive to make, and can feed a whole family, or, in the case of weekly Summertime church fundraisers, an entire community. Combine these beans with a few red-skinned hot dogs, which only cost $2 per package of 400, and have a satisfying snap to the casing, with a can of brown bread, along with plenty of ketchup and mustard, and you’ve got a well-rounded, traditional New England meal.

In Portland, the B & M factory gets a lot of attention. It’s the first thing you see when approaching the city from the North, and their canned baked beans had made up the bulk of my experience with this weekend staple. Jillian was never crazy about them, though, so to try and persuade her, I made a batch from scratch. They’re stunningly easy, though very time consuming. Start to finish, the whole process takes at least a day. But if you’ve got the time (and the ceramic bean pot), you’ll be rewarded with a batch of beans the B & M boys can’t touch: thick, smoky, perfectly sweetened beans, with plenty of flavor and fat from the salt pork, which are pulled from the oven JUST before they begin to rupture and split open. They’re a worthy accompaniment to any kind of sausage, and they deserve a place at your Saturday night supper table.

Boston Baked Beans
Adapted from a recipe in “What’s Cooking at Moody’s Diner”

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups yellow eye Maine beans
  • 1 white onion, quartered
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Chunk of salt pork, 2″ x 2″ (or as much as you’d like)

Method:

Cover dry beans in liquid, and soak overnight in large bowl. Place onion in bottom of bean pot, drain beans, and add to pot. Mix brown sugar, molasses, salt, pepper, mustard, and ginger with a little hot water, and pour over beans. Add enough hot water to cover beans. Place chunk of salt pork on top. Cover pot, and bake at 325 degrees for six hour. Check often, adding water as needed so that beans remain covered. Remove cover for last hour of cooking.

Our “Classics” series tackles some of our favorite dishes from Maine’s rich culinary tradition. You can think of them as “traditional” dishes, or more accurately, things you might have had for hot lunch in the fourth grade, had you attended St. George Elementary. To read more from this series, click here.

Malcolm Bedell is co-author of the critically acclaimed "Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road," as well as the taco-centric blog "Eat More Tacos," and the junk food-centric "Spork & Barrel." His contributions include Serious Eats, Down East, L.A. Weekly, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post and his food truck, "'Wich, Please," was named "Hottest Restaurant in Maine" for 2015 by Eater. Finally, he finds it very silly to be trying to write this in the third person.

5 Comments

  1. Sounds like this recipe would work well in the crock pot too, which is what I’m going to attempt. I grew up in New Gloucester and worked in downtown Portland for a few years, before moving to Arizona. Hoping to move back to Maine in the near future, and I’ll be hitting up all the restaurants you’ve been reviewing. Thanks, this is a great website for times when I need comfort – I feel like I’m in exile!

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    1. It seems like it would, though we haven’t tried them in a slow cooker. If you’re serious about beans, you should consider a clay pot. I think they’re about 20 bucks on Amazon, and they work great. They’re also just really cool objects, and fun to look at. Thanks for reading!

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