Today in the New England region, baked beans are flavored either with maple syrup (Northern New England), or with molasses (Boston), and are traditionally cooked with salt pork in a beanpot in a brick oven for six to eight hours. In the absence of a brick oven, the beans were cooked in a beanpot nestled in a bed of embers placed near the outer edges of a hearth, about a foot away from the fire. Today, baked beans can be made in a slow cooker or in a modern oven using a traditional beanpot, Dutch oven, or casserole dish. The results of the dish, commonly described as having a savory–sweet flavor and a brownish- or reddish-tinted white bean, however cooked are the same.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baked_beans
Most common baked bean recipes today are modeled on the Boston baked beans recipe, using molasses as the main sweetener. But in the earliest colonial days molasses wasn’t necessarily as readily available in New England as it became a few years later as the slave/sugar/rum trading triangle was developed. The early settlers probably learned to make maple syrup from the Native Americans, so that became the readily available sweetener of choice for many in New England, especially those living in more rural locations farther from the docks in Boston.
I think this may become my go to baked bean recipe. I mean it’s not as addictive as my quick baked beans, but it’s also not full of artificial flavors and preservatives from canned baked beans. The maple syrup gives a nice sweet flavor without the bitterness of molasses that sometimes can be a bit much. I do recommend using a darker grade of maple syrup though- you want some of those more complex flavors that come from a more caramelized product.
The recipes I looked at ranged from using cooked beans and 2 or 3 hours all the way to 10 hours in the oven starting with soaked, but otherwise uncooked beans. The average seemed to be around 6 hours, which seemed like it should be plenty of time for the beans to cook. Well, those recipes calling for 10 hours of baking aren’t kidding. They were edible after 6 hours, but some of them were still a bit on the crunchy side. I put them back in the oven for another two hours and even then they are still on the firm side. I guess the chemicals in molasses that slow down the cooking process are also present in maple syrup? I’ve adjusted the baking times in my recipe to reflect this experience. If you don’t have ten hours to let your beans bake, par boil them for about 45 minutes before adding the other ingredients and you should be able to have them done in about six hours.
I used yellow eye beans* this time, which are a variety that was commonly grown in the North East, especially Maine, back in the day. You can also use any small white bean or really pretty much any kind of bean you like.
New England Maple Baked Beans
Prep: 10 minutes
Bake: 8-10 Hours
1 ⅔ lbs. yellow eye or small white beans
45 oz canned navy beans
1 ½ medium onion, peeled
10 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
⅞ cup maple syrup
⅔ cup brown sugar
1 cup ketchup
⅜ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons dry mustard
⅔ teaspoon salt
2 cups water
1 lb. salt pork
3 Tablespoons canola oil
1 Tablespoon cider vinegar
1 ⅓ lbs. smoked ham, in place of salt pork
1 ⅔ lbs. king of early, Jacob’s cattle or soldier beans
Pick over dry beans and remove any sticks, stones, or bad beans. Cover with cold water by several inches and soak over night.
Preheat oven to 325 F
Drain beans and put half of them in the bottom of a bean pot or dutch oven. Stud onion halves with whole cloves and place in pot, along with bay leaves. Add remaining beans. Mix maple syrup, brown sugar, ketchup, black pepper, mustard, salt and 2 cups of water, and pour over beans. Add additional water to just cover beans. Cover and bake for about 4 hours, checking every hour or so and adding additional water as needed to keep beans barely submerged.
Meanwhile score the salt pork through the flesh, leaving skin intact. Cover with cold water and set aside.
After about 4 hours, when beans begin to soften, drain salt pork and nestle it into the beans, leaving the skin level with the top of the beans. Continue to bake for another 4-6 hours, adding additional water as needed, but being carful not to add too much during this time. Remove lid for the final hour, and only add water if the beans seem too dry.
After eight to ten hours total, the beans should be very soft, the liquid reduced nearly to a saucy glaze, and the pork skin should be browned and somewhat crispy. Remove from the oven and cover for 5 minutes.
Remove and discard onion and bay leaves, and set pork aside. Stir the beans, scraping any brown fond from the side of the pot into the mixture. Cut pork into bite size pieces and mix into beans, then allow to rest for 10-15 minutes so the sauce will cool into a nice syrupy glaze.
You could also cook these in a slow cooker on low, for 10-12 hours.
Serve with brown bread and hot dogs, or your favorite barbecue or picnic foods.
*I receive no compensation for mentioning this product.