Baked beans are a New England favorite and while there are many excellent options for canned baked beans, you'll find making them from scratch is easy and far more satisfying.
Scouring through the Yankee archives, we found literally hundreds of recipes for baked beans. We couldn't test all of them, but these maple-laced, slow-cooked beans ranked high among our favorites. We loved the cob-smoked bacon which really makes these beans special--be sure to use a brand that is not too smoky or that will overpower the rest of the party in the pan.Yellow-eye beans are traditional and grown in Maine, but navy beans are a good substitute (although they don't hold their shape as well).
Soak the beans overnight in plenty of water. Then line a heavy-bottomed bean pot or cast iron pan with strips of bacon. Combine the beans with an onion, more bacon, mustard and maple syrup and then arrange more bacon strips on top. Cook that in a 350 oven for 3 to 4 hours and you will have what legends are made of without a lot of effort.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 pound yellow-eye beans
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 medium onion, peeled
1 bay leaf
1/2 pound cob-smoked bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces (leave 6 strips whole)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1/4 cup maple syrup, or to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons sweet mustard
1 to 2 tablespoons cider vinegar, or to taste
Pick over beans, discard debris or anything that isn't a bean. Soak them overnight in fresh water to cover. Change the water, cover with fresh water and bring beans to a rapid boil for about 20 minutes or until tender. Add baking soda and stir well. Drain beans, reserving the liquid.
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Peel the onion and pin bay leaf to it with the clove. Line the bottom of a 3-quart bean pot (or Dutch oven) 3 bacon strips. In a medium bowl, combine beans, bacon pieces, pepper, dry mustard, maple syrup, and 1 teaspoon salt. Spoon mixture into pot, nestling the onion in the center. Arrange the remaining bacon strips on top. Add enough of reserved bean liquid to cover the beans, and place the lid on top.
Cook beans 4 to 5 hours or until the beans are tender and flavorful. If the beans start to dry out, add additional liquid. Leave the pot uncovered the last half hour or so to allow the beans to brown. Just before serving, mix the sweet mustard and vinegar together and stir them into the beans. Adjust the seasoning, adding salt, maple syrup, mustard, or vinegar to taste: The beans should be a little sweet, a little spicy, and well-seasoned.
Annie B. Copps is a senior editor at Yankee Magazine. Annie oversees the magazine's food coverage, both as an editor and as a contributor of feature stories and columns.
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