In our house, some baked foods qualify as baked goods – just like a cookie, kinda baked goods. If you try to argue this point, you might likely get booted from the house.
Nan’s Mac & Cheese is one of those things, and so is Nan’s baked beans recipe.
Nan, my husband’s maternal grandmother, never officially gave anyone her recipe. She told us to go to the back of the bean bag and add from there.
Nan, Nan, Nan, I’d always wag my finger at her when she would say that. Nan would grab my finger and kiss my hand, and then waggle her finger back and just giggle.
Then one Easter, we were all standing in the kitchen while she was making beans, and my husband’s crazy cousin and I told her we could market her baked beans because they were that good. We’d make a killing! We told her about our marketing scheme.
The product name? Nan’s Badass Beans. She giggled.
Picture this: Sweet Nan in the kitchen baking her beans, talking about how grandmotherly homemade goodness is what makes these beans so special. Then Nan removes her apron, walks outside, and hops on the back of her grandson’s motorcycle with him. As he peels out of the driveway, Nan looks back and yells, “Nana’s beans are so badass, you’ll make them a staple in your home!”
It’s one of the few times I actually saw Nan literally double over in laughter.
She still didn’t give any of us the recipe.
We all miss her dearly; it’s been nearly 10 years since she passed. Her sister, my husband’s Great Aunt, passed the end of the summer, and she willfully shared her heirloom recipe for Tomato Flip. It’s those kinda family recipes that are tried and true, heirloom in nature, and worthy to be made as often as possible, and passed from generation to generation.
Every time baked beans, mac & cheese, or tomato flip get made, there’s always an ensuing conversation about the lovely matriarchs who ruled the family for so long.
And for the record, I can actually say that this is kinda a recipe I created – I started with the recipe that exists on the back of the State of Maine solider beans, and then started adding and taking away spices and other things people suggested until I came up with the recipe below.
As a pretty funny side note on baked beans, when my a BFF and I went to London a few years ago, we always had the best conversations with the cab drivers over there. They’re talented in the art of car conversation.
After being asked where we were from, when one can driver discovered I was from near Boston, he went into this freakishly hysterical diatribe about how British baked beans were way better than Boston baked beans.
While the following captures the conversation, this man’s righteous indignation over how improper Boston baked beans were was only more hilarious when told in his thick British accent.
Cabbie: You Bostonians and your idea of baked beans. When I was there a while back, I got these overly spiced baked beans, and I kept asking for a proper baked bean. The waiter finally told me these were [making air quotes] “proper” baked beans. After a lot of back and forth, and pretty much getting in an argument, I yelled, “I just want a fucking proper baked bean for breakfast!”
Me: What does proper baked bean mean?
Cabbie: Not all those damned spices.
Me: What are British baked beans like, then?
Cabbie: They’re definitely not spiced. More often, they’re like the ones that come outta a can.
Me: OMG! You mean like Heinz baked beans?? Yuck.
Cabbie: Yeah. That’s a proper fucking baked bean. You Bostonians.
We all were laughing at this point.
If you want any idea of how much this conversation made my BFF and me laugh, goes ahead and put on a thick British accent and yell “proper fuu-king baked bean!!”
On to the recipe…
Please make sure to read the recipe notes. Here are a few other pointers that will save you MAJOR hassle:
- If you love your Crockpot – and let me just tell you, so do I, but I have never successfully made these beans in a Crockpot. I’ve tried several times, thinking the ceramic pot in a Crockpot would conduct the same way a bean pot does. No. For whatever reason, it does not. Be my guest and try it, and let me know if you have success.
Just get a bean pot at an antique shop. Find one online through eBay. Or get the gorgeous Salmon Falls one I have. They clean up like a DREAM after a messy baking session with a relatively quick soap and water soak!
Sadly, one of the times I did try making these beans in a Crockpot, I was boasting about how much better my baked beans are than a friend of ours. I actually told him his beans were boring and bland, and tasted like they crawled outta bad bean company’s over-processed can – Yes, this is the banter he and I throw around about our food. When he came over, and I had made the beans in the Crockpot, the beans never cooked – like literally were no softer than when I pulled them out of the parboil, so it was like biting into semi-hard bullets.
I’ve never lived this down.
2. Unless you want to hover over your boiling beans to prevent spill over, get these cuties. Get whatever boil over prevention you want. Just get something. These sheep just much cuter and only $7, and they will absolutely prevent boil overs. Even with the top off of the pot, these beans will boil up. If you’ve ever had to clean up bean spillage on your stovetop… well, it’s a royal bitch to clean off. While I don’t know the science behind why these buggers work, I just know they do.
3. While the recipe says the onion is optional, I have always used it. Think another layer of flavor. Unless you have an aversion to onions, add the onion.
4. If you don’t have salt pork, you likely have bacon, and that works just as well for flavor purposes. If you’re like us and do your own meat, you’ll have bacon ends. If you’re lucky enough to have a good butcher nearby, they likely have any of the three aforementioned meats.
5. Mix the sugars, spices, maple syrup, ketchup, and molasses in a large mixing pitcher. It’s so much easier to pour than out of a bowl. If you don’t have a measuring/mixing pitcher, just pour the ingredients from the bowl into the bean pot over the sink. Otherwise, a massive mess you will have.
6. Speaking of that spice mixture…read the recipe notes on where you get the boiling water.
7. Speaking of liquid measure, when it comes to anything sticky like maple syrup or molasses, they can be a royal pain in the arse to get out of a regular measuring cup. I use the Metric Wonder Cup, and it works like a dream. Sticky stuff just pops right out of it.
Of course you can spray your measuring cup with cooking spray, but then you have to spray it for each use…and then the cooking spray residue is in the food you didn’t necessarily want cooking spray in… catch my drift?
8. If you can, you have a canning funnel. If not, it’s worth the whooping $2 from Target to get one. It makes getting beans in the bean pot a whole lot easier. Before I figured out this trick, there were a whole lotta beans spilling everywhere.
9. I would also tell you to put a disposable pie plate or line a cookie sheet with tin foil and put that under the bean pot. See how the bean pot contents expandeth when baking? Putting something underneath will saveth having to clean your oven afterwards. The picture below was taken after the bean pot had been in the oven only one hour.
This is the pot after close to 7 hours in the oven:
The end result is a beautifully spiced, flavorful baked bean that will wow you and all your guests!
Nan's Badass Baked Beans
There's a lot that goes into these beans to make them flavored packed, and it's an all-day kind of recipe, but one that won't ever disappoint you.
- 2 lbs dry bean I use State of Maine Solider Beans
- 1/2 lb salt pork You can also use bacon or bacon ends
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4-1/2 cup brown sugar dark brown will add even more flavor
- 1/2-1/3 cup molasses
- 3/4 cup ketchup
- 1/2 cup maple syrup darker the better
- 2 tsp dry mustard
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1/4 tsp cloves
- 1/2 tsp ginger
- dash salt
- 1 medium onion optional
Pick over beans, discarding bad ones, and soak overnight in cold water.
Next morning, parboil beans until the skins crack when blown upon.
If using onion, cut into quarters, and put in bottom of bean pot.
Mix sugars, spices, molasses, ketchup, and maple syrup in bowl. Add 1 pint boiling water to mixture.
Add parboiled beans to bean pot.
Cut through the rind of salt pork to about 1/2" depth, and place on top of beans.
Pour liquid mixture over beans and pork.
Add more boiling water to cover. Put top on bean pot and bake in 300F oven for 6 hours or more, adding liquid, as needed. Check beans every 30-45 minutes to make sure liquid level stays to the top of the pot.
DO NOT discard any of the liquid in the recipe. Parboil the beans in the same liquid they soaked in overnight. Get the 1 pint of boiling water needed to add to the spice mixture from the parboiled beans. This only adds more layers of flavor to the overall end product.
Make sure you use a large bean for this bean recipe. These beans get parboiled and then baked for over 6 hours. You need a hearty bean to sustain that kind of cooking. I use solider beans and they never fail me.
Don't try to do this in a Crockpot. I've never had success. Get a bean pot. The ceramic nature of the pot is a critical heat conductor needed to thoroughly and evenly cook the beans throughout.