My mom decidedly makes the best homemade Boston baked beans. For years she has crafted this most-requested side dish in her own kitchen using a now-antique bean pot and carted them to family picnics and gatherings. Seldom were there any leftovers to bring home, and she made two pounds at a time. That’s a lot of beans.
Mom is now in her mid 80s and does little cooking on her own. She isn’t quite ready to give up treasured tools of her “trade” just yet (and personally I’m in no hurry to inherit them, either) and I respect that. I had acquired my own antique bean pot a few years back while we still lived on the West coast, but sadly that was one of many possessions we needed to leave behind when Dad fell ill and necessitated our move to Florida almost 11 years ago.
Our previous residence had natural gas appliances, so I was never really comfortable leaving the gas stove on for as long as Mom’s traditional baked beans need to bake. I had an old crock pot in which I had attempted to make baked beans, but they never really browned up, and after over 24 hours of cooking, I gave them up as a loss. They didn’t taste bad, they just looked sickly. That old crock pot has since given up and gone to the great Kitchen in the Sky, so to speak, and we purchased as a replacement a snazzy Ninja Cooking System. This thing can do just about everything but clean itself, and I’ve used it repeatedly with reliable results. And since the Ninja can do just about everything, I have set out to see if it can cook Mom’s baked beans perfectly.
The recipe isn’t a family secret, and in fact I’m sure there are plenty of websites that could give you the exact same recipe I’m using today. The secret to great Boston baked beans is not in the ingredients, but in the cooking. Here is what I did:
I used two pounds of dry Navy Beans (they are just the right size after soaking), one small package of salt pork (just around 8oz), two cups of white sugar, and about a tablespoon of table salt. The beans should be soaked overnight with more than enough water to cover them. They will soak quite a bit of liquid. I soaked mine for about 12 hours, though I wouldn’t do any less than 8 hours. In the morning (or after the soak) drain the beans in a colander and gently look through and make sure there are no pebbles in the beans. Nothing ruins a mouthful of beans more than biting down on a pebble.
In the cook pot, I placed the beans and added water to cover plus about one inch over. To this, I added the sugar, salt and salt pork, cut into “cubes.” Give them a quick stir, but gently as not to break the beans apart. On the Ninja, I set the dial to “Oven” and the temperature to 300 degrees for one hour. Once they are boiling, they get turned down to 250 for the duration. I just checked on my “experiment” after an hour and they were at a rolling boil, so I’m glad I went to check them. It seems the Ninja only has oven settings down to 250, which should be perfect for cooking once the boil settles to a slow simmer. The house already smells amazing!
I will post the results after the beans are done, complete with photos of the finished product. Here’s to kitchen experimentation!