Well, well, well. I certainly didn’t expect this. The baked beans, that is. I’ve spent nearly three decades’ worth of summers doing my best to avoid them—crinkling my nose, no-thank-you-ing, rolling my eyes at those ridiculous talking dog commercials. And then I made them myself.
On Saturday afternoon, for a weather-be-damned barbecue, I gave a pound of dried white beans a quick simmer to tenderize and plump them. Meanwhile, I whisked together a thick sauce, sweetened lightly with molasses and brown sugar and flavored deeply with pure maple syrup. I tipped that into the pot of beans, along with hearty chunks of thick-cut bacon. Once stirred, all of this went into the oven—covered tightly—for the rest of the afternoon at 300 degrees. Slowly, surely, the beans drank up the sauce, becoming incredibly tender, but not at all mushy. The bacon cooked up into meaty bits and the whole pot became impossibly saucy.
As the beans baked, I began to wonder if I’d had it all wrong about this summertime staple. The tendrils of aroma that escaped each time I peered beneath the lid—all bacon and maple and backyard barbecue—convinced me that, oh yes, I’d had it all wrong.
As luck would have it, we also had it all wrong about the weather—a common springtime phenomenon in Chicago. We’d planned a big barbecue spread—ribs and all. The intermittent downpours and 4o-degree temperature, however, triggered Plan B: ribs eaten inside, on the couch.
At least I had my new-found love—baked beans—to keep me warm.
Maple Baked Beans
Adapted from Cookie
1 pound dried navy or great northern beans
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons molasses
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
2 thick strips bacon, cut in 1/4 inch pieces
In a large pan, cover the beans with water. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 300°F.
In a bowl, combine everything else except the bacon. Add to the beans. Stir in the bacon. Add just enough water to the pot to cover everything. Cover the pot with aluminum foil, then a lid. Bake for 5 hours, checking hourly to make sure the beans aren’t drying out. (Add more water as necessary to keep them submerged.) Uncover for the last half hour to brown the top, if desired.