Boston Baked Beans and Brown Bread

The Musical Fruit has often been relegated to side dish status, but you can be like the citizens of bean town and turn this dish into a mainstay of your Dinner Repertoire.

Why couldn’t Rachel be a little more specific about the type of person she was? Goodness knew; if she were a hippie I’d talk to her about her drug experiences, the zodiac, tarot cards. If she were left-wing I’d look miserable, hate Greece, and eat baked beans straight from the tin. If she were the sporty type I’d play her at … chess and backgammon and things.” — Martin Amis

For years as a child, when I visited the grocery store with my mother, I would always see the Boston Baked Beans cans, as well as the accompanying Brown Bread Cans. These things always seemed so exotic to me. I remember when I grew up I finally bought them and was delighted. I really enjoyed the delicious Baked Beans, and the Brown Bread was an unexpected treat.

Baked beans has its origins in Native American cuisine, and was later adopted by English colonists in the new world. Across New England the tradition of baked bean suppers takes place in community institutions such as churches, farmers grange halls, and firehouses. The tradition of having baked beans for Saturday night supper seems to have originated with the pilgrims, who would cook enough so that they would not have to cook anything on the Sabbath. The Puritan sabbath lasted from sundown on Saturday until sundown on Sunday, and this time was reserved for quiet piety and refrained from any labor, including the work that was involved in cooking

While Boston is known as bean-town, the company B&M (Burnham and Morrill)baked beans has headquarters in Portland Maine. This company still bakes beans in huge iron pots in brick ovens before they ship the beans in cans around the world. Today baked beans is commonly served throughout the United States as a side dish, and often seen at cookouts. Often this consists of beans in a brown sugar and tomato sauce. I think that it’s about time to revive the idea of Baked Beans as a main dish.

Beans are members of the Legume family of plants (which includes peas, garbanzo beans, soybeans, and lentils) are a good source of protein, potassium, and complex carbohydrates. High in fiber, beans contain about 20–25% protein by weight, which is 2–3 times more protein than wheat and rice. Not bad for the humble bean.

Brown bread is a name given often to various breads made with significant amounts of whole grain flour, bran, cornmeal and sometimes dark-colored ingredients such as raisins, molasses or coffee. New England or Boston brown bread is a type of dark, slightly sweet steamed bread that is popular in New England. This moist bread is dark in color and is almost always served with baked beans. Also high in fiber this nutrient dense breadstuff combined with the beans contains all you need for a nutritious and tasty warm your bones dinner.

If you like Brown Bread, don’t just relegate it to being served with Beans. I like it for Breakfast with some cream cheese and a little marmalade. It’s a lovely bread and I’m surprised it’s not more popular. I’ve often brought it alone to potlucks and it’s always gone before I leave.

Perfect for a cold or wet winter night Baked Beans and Brown Bread is satisfying and should be part of your families weekly dinner rotation. I myself like Baked Beans and Brown Bread in and of itself, but I often will throw in some Grilled Sausages, Ham, or you can even throw in some garden burgers if you feel the need. The point is, that this is a fairly flexible meal that can have a multitude of things added. Try salad, coleslaw, Steamed Vegetables or other fare. One of the nicest things about leftover Baked Beans is that you can warm them up to serve with a “Full English” Breakfast of Eggs, Sausages, Bacon, Black Pudding, Toast and Potatoes and the aforementioned Baked Beans.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup fine cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup rye or buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk or yogurt
  • 1/3 cup molasses or real maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar or Demaria Sugar
  • 1/2 stick of butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (Hazelnuts, Walnuts, Pecans) — Optional
  • 1/2 cup dried raisins, figs or dates

Method

Set Oven to 350 degrees

This is a batter bread, that is not unlike muffin batter. Cooking this in a tubular mold in hot water steams the bread so that it cooks thoroughly but remains moist. You could in theory bake this without the water bath, but it might not be as moist as you would want it to be. This method of cooking is a bit fussy, but if you are careful you will have a great end result.

Method One: Butter two loaf pans and prepare a large roasting pan for use. Boil water and let set on warm to keep hot or use an electric kettle on standby.

Method Two: Prepare two small coffee cans, or tin cans that are large enough to hold the contents of the divided batter. (tall and not broad) Spray each tin with cooking spray and line with parchment paper that has been cut to fit the mold. Prepare a large Dutch oven and set aside.

Method Two: Cut two 6-inch squares of foil. Coat insides of bread tins and one side of foil squares with 1 tablespoon butter. Boil water and let set on warm to keep hot or use an electric kettle on standby.

  • In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk the wet ingredients. Stir into the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula until well combined. Fold in optional nuts and/or raisins. Transfer to either of the greased prepared pans; cover each pan with a tight cap of foil. If you feel it is needed, wrap the foil in pans with a few loops of baking/cooking twine.
  • Place either type of pan/can in the roasting pan (bread tins) or in the deep pot (small coffee cans; add very hot boiling water to come up to about 3-inch up sides of cans/tins.
  • Bake until a skewer inserted through foil into the center of each loaf comes out clean, about 1 1/2 hours. (or longer if needed. The result should be a dense moist loaf that is solid enough to be unmolded.)Transfer the Pan/Pot to a wire rack to cool.
  • Let stand for 10 minutes before removing bread from pan to a wire rack.
  • Let cool for 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around edges of cans. Invert to release loaves onto rack. Let cool completely and slice into rounds/slices to serve with butter.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dry navy beans
  • 6 cups water (or more if needed, eyeball it.)
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 whole bay leaf (do not crumble)
  • 6 strips thick cut bacon (chopped into small dice)
  • 1 yellow onion (peeled and diced very fine)
  • 1/3 cup blackstrap molasses (or pure maple syrup)
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp dry mustard powder. (Do not use prepared mustard in the jar)
  • 1 tbl tomato paste. (from a can or tube)
  • 1 tbl Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground white pepper (or black pepper if you must)

Method

You may be tempted to chuck the recipe and just throw everything in a crock pot. Believe it or not, Baked Beans are not well made in a crock pot. Sure, they might be edible, but they won’t have the quality that the method that follows provides. Avoid the crock pot and take the time that this asks for.

Pick through the beans to find any unusable beans. They call these stones, and you may indeed find stones, but ultimately you are looking for ossified beans. I know that most of us feel secure that the beans we buy should not have any inedible substances in them, but i think it’s better to be safe than sorry.

  1. Soak the beans in a covered pot of the water overnight.
  2. Add a pinch of baking soda and bay leaf, and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat to medium and let simmer for about 10 minutes
  3. Drain into a colander set over a large bowl, reserving all of the cooking liquid. Preheat oven to about 300 F.
  4. Transfer the drained beans into a Dutch oven or other large ovenproof casserole, and add the rest of the ingredients. (excepting the reserved water) Stir until the bean mixture until combined. At this point add enough of the reserved bean cooking water to just barely cover the beans.
  5. Cover the pot tightly and place in the oven to cook for 1 hour.
  6. Uncover the beans and check the beans to find out how well they are cooked. At this point, pleased do not stir the beans. If the beans are getting too dry and more of the reserved bean cooking water. Allow to cook covered for one hour more hour.
  7. Remove the Beans from the oven, uncover the pot and test the beans. At this point they should be getting tender, but if they are still firm, cover the pot again and cook a bit longer, adding a splash of water if they’re getting too dry.
  8. When the beans are tender, turn the heat up to 350 F and continue to cook uncovered for another 30 minutes or so. This last 30 minutes is to give the beans is to reduce the liquid to a thick, syrupy consistency. Remove when ready and serve hot or room temperature with the bread and other foods.

Dean Jones is a Librarian, Cookbook Reviewer, and writer. Originally from San Diego and having lived his teen years in the Pacific Northwest, Dean has lived for over 20 years in the wonderful but barely affordable San Francisco Bay Area. Dean has graduated with an MLIS from the University of North Texas and has a BA in Liberal Studies from JFK University in the Bay Area. Dean is the Library Director for Hurwich Library in the San Francisco Bay Area. Dean can be seen at Book Festivals and Library field trips with the BayNet Libraries Group, of which he the Vice President. He can also be seen haunting farmers’ markets, bookstores, and local restaurants. Dean lives in the SF Bay Area with his lovely wife, six kids, and many books. Dean writes for “One Table One World,” “The Cookbook for All,” “An Idea,” and “Authors what are you reading.” Contact Dean at wellseasonedlibrarian@gmail.com

And search out more stories at One Table, One World by Kim Duke, and Kathryn Dillon!

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