What could be more Maine than a pot of baked beans on the 4th of July?
The tradition of slow-cooking beans with molasses, salt pork, and salt goes way back to Puritan New England when the church-people were not allowed to cook on Sundays. Using the Yankee ingenuity we still celebrate today, those good church-going Protestants figured out that if they put beans into a hole lined with hot coals on Saturday, they would have a steaming, wholesome meal to eat on Sunday–without lifting a banned wooden spoon! The Puritans came from a part of England where foods were baked into stews and pies rather than frying, so it was natural for them to incorporate traditional cooking methods when they transplanted themselves here to the New World (see Wikipedia article for some dubiously-fact-checked reference material for these statements.)
While Massachusetts is known as the official “Baked Bean State,” we Mainers can also claim this savory dish for ourselves. After all, Maine was once part of Massachusetts, and like it or not, we do share some cultural quirks with our counterparts just south of us on I-95. Maine baked beans are a Saturday-night supper staple. You will also find a pot or two served at just about any public supper, family reunion, or informal celebratory event…like the 4th of July.
In honor of my traditional Maine roots, I put a pot of beans into the oven on Independence Day and left them there to simmer and bubble for six hours. Later, following a leisurely afternoon kayaking with friends down a sleepy stream, we all tucked into the beans served with potato salad, coleslaw, pickles hamburgers, and radishes from the garden–a feast in honor of great American cuisine on America’s Independence Day.
Hope you all had a Happy 4th of July. Here is a family recipe for Maine Baked Beans. Enjoy!
Maine Baked Beans
2 pounds beans (we like yellow-eye; Maine-grown if you can find them)
1/2 pound salt pork (or 1/8 lb butter or even olive oil if you are vegetarian)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2/3 cup molasses
2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
1 1/2 Tbs. salt
1 medium onion
Rinse beans and soak overnight in water. In morning, parboil beans until skins crack when you lift them out and blow on them (use a wooden spoon to lift a few out). Cut up the onion into fourths and put in bottom of your bean pot. Drain the beans, reserving the liquid in a bowl. Put beans into bean pot. Put pork on top of beans. Mix brown sugar, molasses, mustard, pepper and salt with one pint of the bean liquor. Pour this mixture over the beans. Bake at 300 degrees for 6 hours or more, adding more boiling water if the beans begin to dry out on top. Serve with slaw or potato salad, brown bread or biscuits (really good to eat biscuits with butter and molasses…yummy!)
You can also put this all into a crock-pot and cook on low for ten to twelve hours. The beans get better as leftovers, too, soaking up more and more flavor from the molasses and spices. You can also freeze leftovers to warm up later for quick meals.
Well, the buzzer on the stove just went off, telling me that the strawberry-rhubarb pie I stuck in there forty-five minutes ago is done. More on that next time…Outside the Box.