Friday, February 22, 2013

Boston Baked Beans & Southern Lit

The drama this week was never ending for me and I collapsed in a heap last night vowing to make something delicious to eat for the weekend and to just be really quiet for a few days. The weather cooperated with my desire to hibernate -- it never got over 35 degrees today and something akin to half melted ice fell from the sky. I watched a cooking video on the NY Times website earlier this week about simmering beans in a red wine sauce and while it appealed to me, it only made me want to make baked beans, and to further this baked bean destiny, I partook in some damn good baked beans of a Southern Style at the local BBQ joint a week or so ago - tangy with just enough molasses and more tomato than a Yankee might add, but most intriguing was the use of a variety of beans, at least four I counted, including butter beans . . . most unusual. My husband ordered the macaroni and cheese as his side dish and we laughed, just a little, because there was a time when neither of us would have ordered baked beans and macaroni and cheese, in tandem or solo, due to the fact, that in the early nineties, we were living on my meager salary and barely making it, and all we ate was canned baked beans and Kraft macaroni and cheese for, well, about two years. I would dress the canned baked beans up with black strap molasses and mustard, just like my grandmother, a true Yankee herself, and well, to say the least, the dish became pretty tasteless to us - we associated it with Hard Times. But I think back, way back, to winter nights when my grandmother served Boston baked beans and canned brown bread (yes, that's bread in a can) and ham and I smile when I think of that meal, because although my grandmother and grandfather fought like the Prussians and the French, this meal was an homage to my grandfather's Boston Irish heritage. And what does this have to do with Southern Lit? Not very much, except I completed reading my first contest book last week for the Crook's Corner Book Prize, of which I am a reader assisting with the judging for the prize, and I didn't care for the book, and said so in my evaluation form, and to reward myself for studiously reading a 300+ page book that didn't turn my wheels in less than 14 days, I began reading another Southern novel that I am enjoying quite a bit.

But what of the baked beans? Well, when the weather forecast appeared so foul yesterday, I did what any self-respecting Yankee-Turned-Southern-Housewife does the day before inclement weather arrives, I went to the grocery store and I bought too much food, including the basic ingredients for Boston Baked Beans, as I remembered them and today, as the slush fell from the sky, I didn't search the internet for a recipe, no, I went through my collection of cookbooks to see if I could find the traditional recipe that my grandmother made, and only one book, no, not The Joy of Cooking, had the recipe - that's right, Vincent Price, that old thespian, came through for me, so here, from A Treasury of Great Recipes by Mary and Vincent Price is the classic recipe - so go soak your beans:

Boston Baked Beans

Frankfurters and baked beans were made for each other. Sometimes in the West and Southwest you'll find chili and hot dogs mated, but I prefer Boston Baked Beans with my franks. This is an authentic Boston recipe for the genuine article. But canned baked beans doctored with brown sugar, catsup, mustard, onions, and bacon and baked slowly for an hour are not a bad substitute. For those of you who want to know what the real thing taste like, here is the recipe for Boston's traditional Saturday evening baked beans.

California Pea Beans
baking soda
salt pork
dry mustard
salt, pepper 

1. Wash: 1 pound California pea beans. Cover the beans with cold water and soak overnight. (Boston housewives start this on Friday.)
2. In the morning, drain beans, place in saucepan with cold water to cover, and add: 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. Boil for 10 minutes.
3. Drain in colander and rinse with cold water.
4. Preheat oven to very slow (280° F.).
5. Cut the rind from: 1/2 pound salt pork. Cut rind into 1-inch squares. Cut salt pork in half.
6. Place in a 1-quart casserole or bean pot half of the pork and rind, the drained beans, and 1/2 onion, peeled. Top with the rest of the salt pork.
7. Combine: 1/4 cup sugar, 1/3 cup molasses, 1 teaspoon dry mustard, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1/2 cup hot water. Mix thoroughly and pour about one-fourth of this mixture over beans.
8. Place beans in the very slow oven and bake, covered for 5 hours. About every 1 1/2 hours add another bit of the basting mixture.
9. When beans have cooked for 5 hours, remove cover and let them bake one more hour or so top gets browned.


ponygirlnmh said...

I've always wanted to know how to make these! And we're due for some lovely New England weather...

wolfy said...

I'm happy to help :) And these are definitely a thing to make when you're cooped up all day.