Wednesday, May 15, 2024

The Iconic Baked Beans Are Kind of Fishy.

Supposedly, and I say supposedly as the spring time temperatures are in the forties, an article on baked beans would encourage barbecuing.  That one week, this spring, where the temperatures actually hit the 70s, we began our trek in barbecuing.  Pulled out the old gas grill (20 years old, but still doing its job), cleaned it, made sure the propane tank was full, and on it went.  Brats, pork ribs that were marinated in a new Japanese barbecue sauce (Bachan’s with 6 varieties) I had found, sauteed peppers and onions, and cheesy baked beans with brown sugar and bacon.  Later on, added all-beef hotdogs to the menu, along with sauerkraut.  A barbecue without hotdogs…blasphemy!

A Cokenour Barbecue.


Sauerkraut and All Beef Hotdogs.








So, when I decided to do an article on baked beans, the thought was, “This will be easy, it’s a Boston recipe from our British founding fathers.”  ….and I was wrong, oh so wrong. Oh, I was sort of correct with the idea of the British colonists making the dish, but they got the recipe from local Native American tribes: The Narragansett, Penobscot and Iroquois.  Jennifer Bushman is an advocate for “sustainable aquaculture”, or the development of techniques for keeping the availability of all varieties of seafood widespread, and plentiful for all.  Not just for humans to enjoy dining on, but to keep the oceans, seas, lakes, rivers and creeks well stocked for the future.  In her research, she came upon how the Native populace caught and cooked fish, or used seafood in their everyday meal preparations.  One such item was Kombu, and it was a main item in the broth that simmered away to making baked beans.

What is kombu?  Dried sea kelp.  Now sea kelp and seaweed are not the same thing, and do not have the same nutritional values.  When it comes to cooking, if kombu is asked for, use it!  If you cannot find it available, even with online shopping, then bonito flakes, dried shiitake mushrooms, or dried wakame seaweed will be adequate substitutes.  Kelp contains: Calcium, Magnesium, Vitamin A, Folate, Protein, Fiber, Iron, Fat, Iodine, Sodium, Manganese, Potassium, Pantothenic acid, Phosphorus, and Vanadium.  It is cholesterol free, sugar free, fat free (bad fats), low in sodium and low in calories.

Here is Jennifer Bushman’s recipe for Traditional Native American Baked Beans of the Northeast.

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Preparation time, 24 hours plus 6-7 hours cooking, Makes 6 servings.

 1-pound dried beans  

 6 pieces Kombu

 1 cup white onion, sliced and sautéed in olive oil until softened

 1/4 cup molasses

 1/3 cup maple syrup

 2 teaspoons kosher salt (or kelp salt would be AWESOME!)

 2 teaspoons dry mustard

 1 teaspoon smoked paprika

 1 teaspoon ground ginger

 1 teaspoon ground kelp

 Freshly ground black pepper to taste

 2 tablespoons cider vinegar (or to taste)

Rinse the beans well in a colander. Place in a non-reactive bowl and fill with water covering the beans with two inches of water over them. Add 4 kombu leaves, cover, and place in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Put the beans and the kombu in a large heavy pot. Add enough cold water to cover the beans by two inches. Bring up to a boil, then cover, turn off the heat, and place the pot in the oven.

Cook the beans for 60-90 minutes or until they’re tender. Reduce the oven temperature to 200 degrees F. Remove the kombu from the pot and discard. Next, add the sautéed onion, molasses, maple syrup, salt, mustard, paprika, and ginger.

Cover and return to the oven for another 6-8 hours. Add the kelp, pepper, and vinegar then taste to adjust the seasonings. 

Cool the beans down, ideally allowing the beans to rest in the refrigerator, the sauce to thicken, and the flavors to amplify. 

When it comes to an authentic Boston Baked Bean recipe, I am going to defer to my friend, Marsha Birch Frank.  She and I met in a Facebook discussion group, about our favorite book series, Whispering Pines, by author, Shawn McGuire.  We quickly found we had much in common, especially cooking.  Baked beans is a mutual favorite, and her Gramma Jensen’s is close to mine, however, while I like the crock pot, she uses the old-fashioned black with white spotted roaster.  You know the type, used at Thanksgiving to perfectly roast the turkey.  I have one, and the next time I make baked beans, I will be trying out Gramma’s recipe.


Photo by Marsha Birch Frank

Gramma Jensen's Baked Beans

(From Marsha Birch Frank)

 Baked Beans: soak 2lb.s navy beans overnight, drain and rinse

 In the old-fashioned black with white spotted roaster:


4 slices raw bacon cut in 1/2-inch pieces

1 large onion chopped

1 tsp. Pepper

1 tsp. Salt

2/3 C brown sugar

1/2 C molasses

1 C ketchup

1 tsp. Dry mustard

Fill with water

275-degree oven for 8 to 10 hours or till tender.

The only addition I make, when making baked beans, is to add a very generous layer of shredded, sharp Cheddar cheese over the top, in the last 15 minutes of cooking.  The sauce oozes up around the edges of the cheese and creates a bubbling crust.

So, as the weather begins to warm, again, and the desire to barbecue tugs at you, remember, it is not a proper barbeque without the baked beans.

Mary Cokenour