The bean Pot

Some people treasure a piece of furniture passed down to them by their mothers or grandmothers, a cradle or a rocking chair perhaps that they remember being lulled to sleep in when they were little. Others display a painting or a photograph of grandparents or great grandparents on their wedding day. I look at them and wonder how the solemn husband and wife ended up with so many children, and I wish that I could have known them when they were young and in love. There were a pair of these photos in our family with curved glass in oval walnut frames that one of my sisters guards today.

But my treasures are more modest. While others inherited jewelry or great estates, I inherited a bean pot. As I was growing up it appeared regularly on our supper table from October to May. In summer, Mom baked beans only for special occasions like church picnics or family reunions.

Someday my bean pot may become a valuable family heirloom, first since it belonged to my mother and second because it was not made in China. If you hold it right, you can see U.S.A. stamped under the brown glaze on the bottom.

And though it is old it works just fine. Fill it with beans and sauce, slip it into the oven and it does its job just as reliably today as it did when I was too young to chop the onion. And that’s a long time ago. I never asked my mother for her baked bean recipe. If I had she would probably have said that she did not have one, but she followed the same steps every time I watched.

Before she went to bed she rinsed and picked over about a pound of beans and left them to soak overnight. After breakfast the next morning she would boil them for an hour or so then mix them with a sauce she made in the frying pan on the stove and put them in the oven to bake slowly. When the beans were done she would raise the temperature in the oven to bake bread and rolls. Ah, heaven.

The recipe below comes close to producing baked beans like my mother used to make. My wife has a crock pot bean recipe that she thinks is better, and they are pretty good. But if I’m cooking and friends come to dinner when we’re having baked beans, I serve them from my mother’s bean pot.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups navy beans (1 lb.)
1/3 pound bacon (3 or 4 thick slices)
1 medium onion (2 1/2 inch)
5 tablespoons molasses
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 T brown sugar
2 T maple syrup

PROCEDURE:

Rinse the beans and pick out any pebbles or other debris. I like to wash the beans in a large mixing bowl and drain them in a colander a couple of times. Then soak them overnight in cold water. Drain and rinse the beans in the morning and and cover with fresh water in a large pot. Do not add salt for soaking or boiling. Simmer the beans until they are tender, approximately 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Drain the boiled beans and reserve the liquid. Put the beans back into the large mixing bowl.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. While the oven is heating, make the sauce. Chop the onion fine and cut the bacon slices into 1/2 inch pieces. In a skillet or saucepan over medium heat sauté the bacon until some of the grease has cooked out. The bacon should not be crisp. Drain all but about 2 tablespoons of the grease from the pan and add the chopped onion. Sauté until the onion is limp but not brown. Add 1 cup of the bean water, the molasses, salt, pepper, dry mustard, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar and maple syrup. Bring the mixture to a boil and pour it over the beans. Mix well and spoon the beans into the bean pot. Pour in just enough of the reserved bean water to cover the beans. Put the lid on the pot and put the pot into the preheated oven.

Bake for 3 to 4 hours until the beans are tender. About halfway through cooking,, stir the beans, and add more liquid if necessary to prevent them from getting too dry. Half an hour before the beans are done, you can remove the lid to allow the sauce to thicken slightly

Taste and add more maple syrup if you would like the beans a little sweeter.

Mom’s Boiled Dinner

Winter in our home meant soup at least a couple of times a week when I was growing up. One of our favorites was boiled dinner.   While many boiled dinner recipes call for serving the meat and vegetables on a platter and saving the broth to make a soup later, our boiled dinner was the soup.

My mother’s recipe for boiled dinner started with a meaty ham bone or a large smoked pork hock.  Usually she used the bone from a picnic ham, since she liked the economy of buying a picnic ham, roasting it for dinner and having leftover ham to slice for breakfast and sandwiches.   She usually saved the skin from the ham and put it into the soup pot along with the bone to enrich the broth.

After breakfast she would put the ham bone in the pot, cover it with water and bring it to boiling, then move it off to the back corner of the stove to simmer until she had time to add the vegetables later in the day.

My sister Patsy theorizes that the reason mom’s boiled dinner always tasted so good was the long slow simmering it received on the back of the wood stove in winter.  And when supper time arrived, there was fresh bread with sliced ham or summer sausage for sandwiches.

Like most soup recipes, boiled dinner can be made with many variations, but here is a good way to start.

INGREDIENTS:

A meaty ham bone or smoked pork hock
3 or 4 quarts water
3 stalks celery
3 carrots
1 medium onion (2 – 3 inches in diameter)
3 medium potatoes
1 small cabbage (4 – 5 inches in diameter) or half of a larger cabbage
Salt and pepper to taste

PROCEDURE:

Put the ham bone or hock in a soup pot or Dutch oven and cover it with water.   Bring it to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for at least 2 hours.   Clean and chop the celery, carrots and onion into half inch pieces.   Peel the potatoes and cut into inch cubes. Add these vegetables and simmer for an hour.   Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning.

Remove the ham bone from the pot.   Let it cool until it is easy to cut off the meat and return the meat to the pot.   Wash the cabbage, removing any damaged outer leaves, and cut it into eighths.   Add the cabbage to the pot about 20 minutes before serving and simmer until tender but not mushy.

Wonderful with a green salad and fresh bread for sandwiches.

NOTES:   You can replace the ham bone or hock with 2 cups chopped ham and three bouillon cubes.   I use two chicken cubes and one beef cube when I do this and add three or four whole cloves.   You can also use two smoked turkey drumsticks.