Making baked beans is a bit of an art – what’s crucial is the sauce and that is very much dependent on personal taste. I’ve tried several recipes and found the answer was simply to take the one that most suited my taste and adapt. My main complaint about bean recipes are they are too sweet, or alternatively, quite bland. So I took the recipe from the back of a Webster’s Farm Soldier Bean bag. Webster’s Farm is a Nova Scotia company, and solider beans, as far as I have seen is a maritime peculiarity. I haven’t seen them anywhere else and when my children were small when we went to the cottage in New Brunswick in the summer we would always come back to Mississauga with a few bags of soldier beans. So, for the uninitiated they are a large meaty beans. I normally use Great Northern Beans because they are also large meaty beans, just a little more available and less expensive.
To make baked beans the first thing you need to do is to soak them. Pour the beans into a collander, rinse them off and check there’s no rocks or other debris. Place the beans in a container large enough to cover them with water and to allow for swelling as they absorb the water. I usually put the beans in the large pot I’ll be cooking them in. Cover the beans with at least two inches of cool water. These will need to soak overnight; check midway if you can to ensure that they don’t need more water – also, draining and replacing the water half way if you can will reduce the gassy effect of beans somewhat.
When the beans are done soaking, rinse and then put them back into the pot and cover with cool water, leaving 2 inches of water above the beans. Bring the beans to a boil – keep an eye on this, bean water gets this weird foam that boils over if you’re not careful. When the beans are boiling, scoop off the foam, reduce heat to simmer and cover. Cook until the beans are cooked, firm but not crunchy; try not to overcook as that will make the beans a little mushy. This cooking part is usually about 45 minutes but I have had to simmer for a couple of hours – it depends on the soaking time given. Once you add the sugar and the vinegar later on, the beans will not get any softer so keep that in mind. A tip from the beans package says that if you remove a bean from the pot, blow on it and the skin cracks it’s almost done.
When the beans are the right firmness, drain and put them in the container you will be cooking in. More on the how of cooking is after the sauce recipe.
4 tsp (20 ml) dried mustard
1/2 cup (125 ml) brown sugar
1/2 cup (125 ml) molasses
2 tsp (10 ml) salt
1 tsp (5 ml) maple syrup
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) pepper
1/4 lbs (113 g) salt pork or bacon (I don’t put this myself – could also put roast beef)
2 tsp (10 ml) vinegar
1 cup (250 ml) tomato ketchup or tomato sauce
1 large onion
Combine all the ingredients except for the onion in a bowl and add 2 cups (500 ml) warm water. Pour over the beans. Chop the onion and sprinkle over the top of the beans. Top off with enough water to have 2 inches or so above the beans (not more than that – less if you want less sauce). If you want a little heat, try adding a tsp or two of chili powder or Tex Mex powder. An hour or so before the cooking is done, take a cup of the beans and mash them then add them back to the pot to thicken the sauce. Do this to the amount of thickness you prefer.
Cooking choices: these can be cooked on top of the stove (bring to a boil, bring down to low and simmer, covered for 4 to 6 hours); in a crockpot (cook on high for 4 – 6 hours); or baked in the stove at 300 degrees F/150 degrees celcius for 4-6 hours.
This can also be done in the Instant Pot with either fresh or dried beans. I prefer to soak the beans overnight so they aren’t so hard but you could follow the bean softening instructions for Instant Pots. Once your beans are soft you cook the bacon and onion on saute, deglaze the pot with a bit of the sauce (or water), add the beans to the pot and cook on manual for 25 minutes with 15 NPR. If the beans are too hard cook for 5 or 10 minutes longer depending on how soft you want them to be. When done put on Saute and mash the cup of beans and stir back in, then saute until the sauce is your desired thickness.
Saving for later: what I love about these “weekend beans” is that I can freeze them in meal sized containers and use them throughout the month. I will make a pot on one weekend and it often last two or three weeks frozen before it’s time to make another pot.