By Angela Denstad Stigeler
Ah, Beantown. Of all the culinary delights found in Boston, it’s the humble bean that haunts “the Hub.” A somewhat derogatory term, the nickname Beantown can practically trace its roots back to the Mayflower: Puritan ideals dictated no work on Sundays and, cooking being rightly considered labor, a Sunday repast which could be prepared the night before was wanted. Beans fit the bill. You can hardly overcook them, and many pans of beans were tucked into ovens over the embers of a Saturday night. Sailors used to say they could smell the beans cooking as they approached Boston Harbor.
As for the sweetener, Boston was awash in molasses—even flooded with it once—due to the colony’s part in the production of rum, a little detail the Puritans might rather we didn’t mention. But for the beans themselves, it’s hard to argue against their appeal. Though you can find a can of the mass-produced variety at any summer picnic, it’s nothing like the all-day slow baking of a pan of beans, generously drizzled with molasses, on a cold winter’s day. I’d say it reminds me of the many years I spent living in Boston, except that authentic baked beans are a bit of a rarity there. Even better reason to make a batch at home.
Boston Baked Beans
4 ounces salt pork,* trimmed or rind and chopped fine
2 ounces bacon (2 slices) chopped fine
1 onion, minced
1 pound dried small white beans (2 cups), such as navy, picked over and rinsed
8 cups water
½ cup light molasses, plus extra for seasoning
2 tablespoons prepared brown mustard
salt and pepper
Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 300 degrees. Cook the salt pork and bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until beginning to crisp, about 5 minutes. Stir in the onion and continue to cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the beans, water, molasses and mustard. Bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits. Cover and transfer to the oven. Bake, stirring every hour, until the beans are tender, about 4 hours. Remove the lid and continue to bake, uncovered, until the liquid has thickened to a syrupy consistence, 1 to 1 ½ hours. Stir in a splash of vinegar and 2 teaspoons salt. Season with additional molasses and additional salt and pepper to taste.
*if you can’t find salt pork, use an additional 4 slices of bacon