This Memorial Day, I made baked beans with my grandmother's recipe. I found her hand-written recipe while helping my parents pack up their house recently and have just been waiting for an excuse to make them. What better occasion to honor her memory and make some good cook-out food than Memorial Day weekend?
My grandmother was probably the kindest and most giving person that there ever was. Of course I'm biased, but if you had met her, you would probably agree. She also had a great sense of humor. That's part of the reason why it's like hitting the jackpot when you find something in her writing. It always seems to give a little glimpse into her personality. And that's just one reason why I am so excited to have found this recipe. "Too much, right?"
I don't remember the last time that I had Nana's baked beans, But it's funny how just the smell of them cooking could bring me back to cook-outs in Boston and summer evenings in Maine. I'm sure that this batch didn't turn out as well as Nana's did, but they sure brought back some happy memories!
These beans are pretty easy to make, but they definitely take some time. Nana started with dry beans which had to be cooked to soften, and then she cooked the whole batch of yumminess in a crockpot for 10-12 hours. And I have to say, I think that's still the best way to do it!
I did experiment with a short-cut by making a batch using canned beans. The recipe calls for Navy beans, which I couldn't seem to find in canned form. I got what looked like the most similar beans, which were called "Small White Beans." This batch turned out just fine and was definitely tasty. But they are definitely not as flavorful as the batch made from the dry beans. So it's an option to skip ahead to canned beans, but just know that they won't be quite as tasty as starting from the dry beans!
Luckily, a lot of the cooking time happens either in the crockpot or just in a pot on a stove that is mostly turned off. So if you plan ahead, it shouldn't take too much of your real time/attention. I cooked the dry beans in the morning and then stored them in the fridge until I was ready to throw everything in the crockpot late that night.
The only other thing that I found intimidating about this recipe was the "salt pork" that it called for. Apparently it's easy to find in the grocery store - it was near the bacon in my store. And if you look it up online, salt pork is actually a staple in Boston Baked Beans! I found some recipes for the beans that said you can substitute it with bacon, but I figured if salt pork is known for being in the baked beans, then I should stick with it.
The salt pork that I bought had a thick skin on it. Since it was my first and only time buying this kind of meat, I don't know if that's the norm. But I did a little internet search to find out if I should remove it or not, and the sites that I looked at said that it should be removed. So that's what my recipe says.