Baked Beans

Baked beans is a traditional dish that was carried from New England to the Midwest and beyond. For early Puritans, cooking was considered work, and therefore not allowed on Sunday. A pot of beans left over the fire Saturday provided a “no-cook” hot Sunday meal for a pious family.

In my mother’s Cape Cod family, the beans were picked over carefully, washed, and put to soak Friday. They baked down all day Saturday. That night the beans (sometimes served with franks (hot dogs) when times were good) made a frugal Saturday night supper for the family of seven — or six during World War II when Papa was away in the Army.

Sunday morning it was cold beans on hot toast — a breakfast my mom still enjoys. I have yet to succumb to the charms of cold baked beans on toast, but since I’ve discovered dal and all its marvelous incarnations, I’ve softened my attitude toward other dried legumes.

For Christmas, I received a marvelous gift — an old-fashioned New England beanpot. Made of glazed clay, the beanpot has the traditional shape that holds in moisture and heat. It also has the tradtional color scheme — brown on top and natural on bottom. Many midwestern earthenware bean pots are entirely dark brown — but the New England bean pot is a two-tone affair.

bean pot
traditional New England style beanpot

The best beans for baking are one of three: navy, pea, or Great Northern. They are all relatively small white beans, Great Northern being the largest. Navy or pea beans are traditional in Massachusetts, while Great Northern is the bean of choice in Maine. All three made their way into the midwest with pioneering families, where bean soup and baked beans made two hearty meals from one pot.

great northern beans
the humble great northern bean — dry and soaked

There’s nothing quite like the smell of beans baking in a slow oven on a cold snowy day. Try sometime and see!

I believe the secret to good baked beans is threefold.

1. patience — soak the beans well — at least 8 and preferably 12 hours

2. boil them with baking soda before baking

3. patience again — they really do take ALL day

New England Baked Beans

1 lb great northern (or pea, or navy) beans
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 small onion, quartered
1/3 c molasses
1/3 c brown sugar or jaggery
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dry mustard (such as Coleman’s)


Pick the beans over and wash well. Soak overnight in at least 8 cups fresh cold water. Next day, preheat oven to 250 F. Put the beans in a saucepan with enough soaking liquid to cover. Add the baking soda and stir well. Bring to a boil, and simmer 10-15 minutes, skimming foam as it rises.

Drain the beans, reserving the liquid. Place quartered onion in the bottom of beanpot (or 2 1/2 qt oven-safe casserole with cover). Add beans. Mix molasses, sugar or jaggery, mustard and salt with 1 c. reserved liquid. Pour over the beans, adding enough extra liquid to cover them well. Stir it all up and cover the pot.

beans ready to bake
beans ready to bake

Bake 3 hrs at 250, then raise heat to 300 F. Continue to bake another hour. Check the beans — they should be bubbling. Stir everything up well and add additional liquid if needed to keep the beans covered. Reduce heat to 200 F and bake another 3 hours. At that point, if you wish, you can remove the cover, raise the heat and brown the top (another 30 minutes or so).

Serve baked beans hot with butter, ketchup or chili sauce, and any bread of your choice.

Little pickles go nicely with baked beans, too.

baked beans
beans after baking all day

baked beans!
beans, baked!


  1. Asha said

    Looks delicious Linda! UK has the best baked beans I have ever tasted.Your last pic looks exactly like that as I remember.You do need lot of patience to make that at home but worth it!:) Where are the Ham Hocks?:D
    And that jar or soup pot??!! In India ,we make year worth of pickle and store in those huge jars which looks exactly like that but bigger!I love the color and looking at that brought back memories of my G’mother’s kitchen!:)
    Hope you enjoyed watching the game yesterday!

    Hi Asha, I don’t go in so much for football but had a nice little brunch out to celebrate a bunch of b’days that fall about now. My son came up from school and that was all the better! Hope you all had a great party! Ham hocks never graced New England Baked Beans — instead it’s salt pork. Same flavor, I imagine. I left all meat out and it was just as good — keeping up with my veg tendencies of late 🙂

  2. Coffee said

    ONE DAY!!!!! you mean one whole day!!!!! You have some patience dear!!!!!

    I loved the pot. 🙂

    Yes, one whole day plus the soaking before!! Patience I am learning…………… 🙂

  3. sandeepa said

    loved the pot..anything in it should taste great 🙂

    Thanks, Sandeepa! I intend to try several other dishes in it soon…. 🙂

  4. swapna said

    hi linda
    what a great job done by u..
    looks very yummy…mmmmmmmmmmmm
    we call it as jadi/kooja

    Thank you, Swapna! I am going to look up jadi/kooja 🙂

  5. Trupti said

    OOOh boy I love baked beans..and that too with some toast and of most loved lunches! and those pots are quite popular.back in the motherland, we use them to store pickles. Your beans look great, your patience did pay off!

    Hi Trupti, and thanks! I have to work on my patience but baked beans are usually worth it 😉

    I am figuring now that this beanpot is not a new sight to most! I’ll have to get another now, and try making pickles………….. 🙂

  6. InjiPennu said

    Linda, I cant take my eyes off the pot. I cannot see any beans there , can only see the pot. From where did u get this? Thanks a lot for the info on traditional American cookware like these. would love to hear more.

    Inji, were your ears burning… while you were posting here — I was commenting at Ginger and Mango. Drop me an email about the pot. I tried yours but it’s not working. What beans 🙂

  7. pelicano said

    wow..beautiful baked beans linda…i don’t think i’ve ever seen lovelier!! that style of bean dish is quite popular here in wisconsin and with my family. i will definitely try out your recipe on an upcoming occasion, although, as for myself honestly, i’m not fond of the sweetness of this very traditional new england dish, but i still can’t help taking a bite or two!! 🙂 perhaps i’ll work out a hybrid dish between this and punjabi rajma… 🙂

    Hi Pelicano, thanks for the nice words 🙂 I was never a huge fan of beans, baked or otherwise, till I got absorbed with dals. Now I find New England-style beans are good in moderation … and had to make them in that pot!

  8. MeltingWok said

    my godd, Linda, *salute* !! You have such patience. Was wandering if I could do it in a crockpot or bake them in my clay pot ? I’ve already seen yours and another blogger doing baked beans, now I really need to get some. Hope the weather is doing well over there, can imagined the gravy over some hot steamy rice, yummys !! Thanks 🙂

    Oh, thank you MW! The beans are easy, you put them in the oven and kind of forget them for the day 🙂 I am sure they’d be even better in your claypot 🙂

  9. pelicano said

    Oh…I hear ya! My old conception of beans has gone flying out of the window too…and I think I’m the healthier for it, and I KNOW I’m the happier, as I have an on-going hunger for continually expanding my recipe collection for them, and I can’t tell you how thankful I am to the great institution of food-blogging…I might have to join the ranks soon. It still amazes me what can be done with beans… I bought a container of mixed sweets from a local Indian store recently, just to sample things you know… for research of course 😉 unfortunately there was only ONE of everything 😦 I might have to do some more research…

    It’s nice you have a local Indian store to shop at Pelicano — I haven’t seen any in northern MI yet, but I haven’t been looking up there yet, either. So maybe you’ll be venturing into sweet-making next! 🙂

  10. pelicano said

    oh…i have ventured into Indian sweet-making already….each of them seems to have little quirks…and a candy thermometer is no help…..just practice and more practice….ladoos are pretty easy though, and halvahs… in northern MI? anything is possible…but even Green Bay is lacking an Indian grocer…i have to drive to Appleton for the closest, however, “Woodman’s grocery” in GB has a basic Indian grocery section, and also stocks methi fairly often…otherwise the many Thai/Laotian stores in GB stock quite a few exotic vegetables….I make my rounds!!! 🙂

    Hi Pelicano — I didn’t realise there was a large Asian population in GB. Sometime when I get out that way I will have to check out the shopping scene. As for candy thermomters, I don’t believe in ’em 😉

  11. Old fashioned cooking, you can’t beat it.

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