WHEN a neighbour came on our street WhatsApp group offering jars of dried haricot beans for free I was after them like a shot.
There’s nothing I like better than food for free and I love beans. Dried beans. Cans of already cooked beans don’t quite have the same mealy-cum-meaty texture.
Besides, there was a lovely little story attached to these beans. My neighbour’s parents live in Belgium and grew the beans themselves, dried and packed them and then brought them over to Britain on a pre-Christmas visit.
But beans need forward planning. You have to soak them 24 hours in advance. And with toddler Henry to look after Tilde and Rich have 57 varieties of things on their mind. It was too much of a faff. But not for me.
So what was I going to do with them?
We already had cooked dried beans in the freezer awaiting the next mixed bean chilli ( those packets of 12 varieties from Waitrose are a bargain), let alone more dried beans in a jar on the cupboard shelves.
Boston baked beans, that’s what.
If you have tomatoey baked beans for breakfast, that old British cupboard standby, they are a dim and distant descendant of this frontier dish. So I was going to make them, or an approximation at least.
I checked a number of sources for recipes. It depends how far back you want to go and how authentic they need to be. For instance, tomatoes are a comparatively recent addition. They didn’t have too many tins of tomatoes in the Wild West.
And while I enjoy YouTube channels such as Townsends, which recreates American frontier life, I wasn’t going to dig a hole in the back lawn for a firepit and bury a pot of beans in overnight.
As a foodie friend remarked, it’s really a cassoulet.
People have cooked dried beans the world over but Boston’s contribution was to sweeten them with molasses, originally produced from sugarcane used to distill rum. Today, American baked beans are sweeter than the British version.
The basic recipe is to soak then fast boil the beans to destroy any toxins, simmer in a casserole with a chunk of salt pork or smoked bacon for flavour, some molasses (or treacle) for sweetness, with garlic, herbs and spices – and a tin of tomatoes. In a low oven, around 150C, it takes something like three hours but check things don’t get too dry.
I enjoyed the texture of the beans and traces of pork, a big improvement on those tins of beans with sausages!
I used a Hairy Bikers* recipe as my template and added flavourings to hand.
And just as tins of baked beans are a store cupboard staple, so are pots of Boston baked beans in the freezer a great stand-by.
*Here’s the recipe:
500g soaked haricot beans
Piece of pork belly, cut into chunks
100g smoked bacon
100mls red wine
Large onion, chopped
4 cloves, tsp ground mace, bay leaf, thyme
400g tin chopped tomatoes
3 tbsp black treacle or molasses
1 tbsp English or Dijon mustard
Shake of Hendersons
In a casserole, cover beans with cold water, bring to boil for 20 mins, skimming off foam. Them simmer for 40 minutes. Meanwhile fry meat in a pan until browned and add to beans. Similarly fry onion and add to beans. Declare pan with wine.
Add the rest of ingredients, stir and cook in over at 150C for up to three hours. The beans improve with reheating.
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