We take our beans seriously here in New England. Rumour has it that the reason there are so many different varieties is because every town had its own bean. I’ve yet to try them all but am working on it, abetted by the growing number of local farmers who are resurrecting the many heirloom varieties.
My early experience of baked beans was limited to the canned variety, a far cry from the real thing. The possibilities within this humble dish became apparent when I had the chance to taste bean-hole beans. This traditional way of preparing beans is an annual affair at the Common Ground Country Fair, where large pots of them are buried in a fire pit, then left to bake long and slow. The resulting beans were velvety in texture, imbued with a smoky, complex sweetness.
Recently, I’ve been relying on this southern take on baked beans by Andrea Reusing. The recipe call for precooked beans, something we usually have on hand and making this an easy dish to assemble. Here, I used an heirloom variety of dried bean called bumblebee, in reference to it’s large size. I also used jowl bacon instead of strips, but either is fine; the bacon itself is an integral part of the dish but omit it if you prefer to keep it meatless. As for the rest of the ingredients, I substituted more local ones — boiled cider for the sorghum, grainy mustard for dry, and maple syrup instead of dark brown sugar — all of which made for a dish still inextricable from place.
Baked Beans with Smoked Bacon
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup boiled cider (or molasses)
3 tablespoons grainy mustard
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 cup dark beer
2 quarts cooked beans, drained, cooking liquid reserved
6 slices smoked bacon
– Heat oven to 400°F. In a medium bowl, combine the tomato paste, cider syrup, mustard, vinegar, maple syrup, and 1 teaspoon salt. Slowly stir in the beer. Add the beans plus enough of their reserved cooking liquid to create a slightly soupy consistency. Combine, and adjust to taste. Reserve the remaining bean cooking liquid.
– Transfer the mixture to a shallow baking dish and top with bacon. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes (or longer if desired), until the bacon is browned and the top begins to become crusty around the edges. Check while cooking, and add more liquid or water if necessary so that the beans don’t dry out; they should remain a bit saucy.
Recipe adapted from “Cooking in the Moment” by Andrea Reusing.
Local ingredients: Bumblebee dried beans from Baer’s Best; jowl bacon from New Roots Farm; Coal Porter dark beer from Atlantic Brewing Co.; maple syrup from Sugarmomma’s Maple Farm; cider vinegar from Sewall Organic Orchard; maple mustard from White Gate Farm; salt from Maine Sea Salt; homemade tomato paste and boiled cider.