Old-Fashioned Baked Beans with Smoked Bacon

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
Sea salt
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.

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14 Responses to Old-Fashioned Baked Beans with Smoked Bacon

  1. Liz says:

    We get very little in the way of American cooking in Australia (except for the obvious fast food type stuff) so I’m really pleased you’ve posted a baked beans recipe as I’ve always wanted to try the real thing.

    • leduesorelle says:

      Thanks for your comment, Liz — it’s interesting to consider how something as ubiquitous and humble as baked beans would be virtually unknown elsewhere. With local ingredients, I like seeking out traditional recipes, which have always been place-based. The public television series, “Frontier House” and “Colonial House” has very much shaped my way of thinking — what would New Englanders have done with the ingredients they had on hand? I look forward to hearing how you’ve necessarily adapted this to what you have there!

  2. Norma Chang says:

    Never heard of bumblebee bean but I like the name. Next time I am in New England must visit specialty food store or farmers market to look for local dried beans. Your baked beans sound absolutely delicious.

    • leduesorelle says:

      My understanding is that the bumblebee is an heirloom bean from Maine, which doesn’t mean it can’t be grown elsewhere!

  3. E. Baron says:

    Mmmm…bumblebee. I’ll have to watch for that one! I’m also enjoying working (…cooking and eating) my way through every heirloom variety I can find and learning what works best with each of them. In spite of that, I haven’t made good old-fashioned baked beans in about 15 years. When I do, I’ll try this recipe.

  4. Lrong says:

    The finished product looks very delicious…

  5. Hmm-another dish to give a go as I do like the sound of real baked beans. I’ll skip the bacon though but served with some creamy scrambled eggs on some sourdough toast I think will hit the mark for me!!

  6. Liz says:

    I made these yesterday and really enjoyed them. My significant other did too. The kids weren’t quite so sure about the mustardy yeasty flavour which too be fair is quite unlike the sort of thing they are used to eating. Thanks for introducing me to another way with baked beans, I will definitely make it again.

    • leduesorelle says:

      I’m glad the dish turned out for you, Liz! Since ingredients vary, feel free to tinker to suit your own taste. The vinegar I use is very low acid and has a strong apple flavor; you might want to cut down on the amount or use something milder for a less yeasty note. I usually taste the sauce before adding it to the beans, and adjust the balance, knowing that baking will intensify the flavors.

  7. Patti says:

    Oh my gosh. Jowl bacon is so much better than belly bacon. Very hard to find unless you smoke your own. A good substitute would be Irish bacon. They are a bit leaner than American bacon. I am making this for the family Friday night. it sounds wonderful. Where did you get that jowl bacon?

    • leduesorelle says:

      We’ve access to lots of local sources for pork here on the Seacoast, hence the availability of jowl bacon. If you live in the Seacoast, this jowl bacon was from New Roots Farm; Popper’s Artisanal Meats makes guanciale, the Italian version; and A Wee Bit Farm makes pancetta. Hope that helps!

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