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Did you grow up eating homemade Boston Baked Beans? [moved from Boston]

Howdy all! I'm working on a newspaper article about Boston Baked Beans and I'm looking for Boston-area natives to interview who grew up eating homemade baked beans. I'm especially interested in talking with folks who have kept this tradition going (though not required). You can email me at matt AT crispybits DOT com and I'll be sure to respond back to you.

That aside, baked beans are a new thing in my own household - I've been making them for about 4 years now. I follow the Durgin-Park recipe that's available from their website (though I use half the amount of brown sugar called for in that recipe). What recipes do you use?

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  1. I threw together a batch a few years ago, and for all the work involved, I ended up with a batch that tasted almost EXACTLY like a canned version!!!!

    1. Nope, sorry to say. Nor did anyone else in my neighborhood. I suppose some people, somewhere, did, but I tend to think the Boston Baked Bean thing is more of a myth, or a stereotype of Boston. Sounds like it will be a great article though, where will it be published?

      1. Boston Baked Beans in my experience is the candy....
        But yes, I've made them (navy bean type), but nowhere near Boston.

        1. I am going to answer, but not email. Yes. I grew up with homemade baked beans on Sunday evenings, and then it moved to every other week until finally, it was only made for special holidays.

          It isn't a myth. I make the beans in the family now, but only about 4 or 5 times a year, for the large group gatherings. They taste nothing like the ones you get in a can, I am pleased to say.

          1 Reply
          1. re: smtucker

            Glad to hear it's not a myth with at least one person! Where I live, in Watertown, I'm lucky enough to be in a neighborhood full of "lifers" who have lived there for 50+ years. Most of them are in their 70s now and grew up in the 1940s & 50s. They all tell stories of baked beans on Sunday, and how beans were a necessary part of the diet because they were cheap and came with their war rations during WWII. Likewise, most of them tell me the same thing: that after the war and with the proliferation of supermarkets and canned goods, beans out of a can eventually replaced the beanpot.

          2. My grandmother was a New Englander and she made BBB every Sunday. The only story that came out of it was that as soon as the beans went into the oven the cat would lie down in front of it. As soon as the bean came out of the oven the cat would start crying. My grandmother would take a spoon of beans out of the pot and spread them out to cool on a plate. Every Sunday, the cat got the first of the BBB.

            3 Replies
              1. re: escondido123

                I love this! I have no memories that include cats eating beans, and I am the poorer for it.

                1. I grew up with my Dad's homemade Boston style baked beans, but on the other side of the country, and I've never actually been to the city. For some reason, canned baked beans with molasses and salt pork are easy to find on the west coast of Canada, but other places I've lived in only sell the tomato sauce ones.

                  1. I was born in Lynn but my father only wanted meat and potatoes. When my mother made baked beans it was so she could feed us cheaply on the nights he wasn't home for supper (he went to night school). We moved to NH when I was still in elementary school.

                    This is completely different from what my husband was used to growing up in rural NH. Beans were cheap and a frequent meal in his house. We still attend weekly ham and bean suppers at the town hall. These are fund raisers to support the church and Grange. There are always two kinds of beans and they are cooked in electric roasters. I make baked beans several times a year using a recipe I found in a Grange cookbook. Good cheap protein.

                    1. i'm from boston, and definitely grew up with boston baked beans. here is my family's very simple, but very delicious recipe:

                      Almost 2 40 ounce cans of Northern Beans, drained & rinsed
                      32 ounces ketchup
                      1 pound light brown sugar
                      1 pound cooked bacon, cut into strips PLUS bacon grease

                      Butter a casserole dish. Add above and mix together.
                      Bake uncovered at 325 degrees for 1 ½ - 1 ¾ hours.

                      1. I was born and grew up in a small town north of Boston and have lived within the Greater Boston area since. Both my parents were Italian-American so the legendary Boston baked bean meal didn't hit me till college when my rural New England friends introduced me to their Saturday night ritual. Intrigued, I did a little research and began making my own version starting with a Fannie Farmer recipe using dried beans which I deemed more authentic than canned.

                        Over the years I've used a variety of beans: Pintos, Great Northern, Cranberry Beans, Jacob's Cattle. However ever since discovering Marfax beans a few years ago (they are an organic heirloom New England bean from Freedom Bean Farm in Maine) they have become the beans of choice. They are medium-small, roundish, and golden-tan colored and have been growing here for more than a century. They have a rich nutty flavor and are perfect for baked beans.

                        When I started I used salt pork but now use pancetta instead. I find that pancetta adds another smoky rich flavor. Molasses has been the sweetener right along although I have deviated now and then by using Grade B Vermont maple syrup but I keep coming back to molasses. Another thing I do is stud the onion with a few whole cloves as my Ipswich in-laws have done for generations. My vintage bean pot gets used these days about 3 times a year now, It's a nostalgic meal we really enjoy along with Boston brown bread steamed in a coffee can.

                        Good luck with your project. It would be fun to know when and where your article is published.

                        1. I have a twist on the homemade: My parents grew up in SW Connecticut (they are 88), and they remember taking the pot of beans to the bakers on Saturdays in the 1930s after the bakers were done baking bread for the day, and then going back go bring the cooked pot home. They were not alone; it was very common. Saturday night supper was franks and beans (and I certainly grew up eating franks and beans for Saturday or Sunday supper, but my mother did not make from scratch). A friend of mine lived in Eastie until a decade ago, and she said there was still a bakery that did this.

                          1. Thanks for the responses, folks! The stories you're sharing have been really great.

                            For those of you who are curious, this will be an article in the Boston Globe. I've sent emails out to a couple of you who responded to this thread so take a look in your inbox if you got an email from me with a request for more info.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: mbCrispyBits

                              For me (born in 1970 outside of Boston) it was an occasional, special dish. I'm sure that I could get the recipe from my mother. My father's family are multigenerational new-englanders, and I am sure that the recipe came from his mother. In addition to the war-time stories above, my grandmother still prefers maple syrup in her morning coffee - sugar rationing made maple syrup a cheaper, more available sweetener.

                            2. You interviewed my RI cousin by email, I'm part of the Saturday BBB family who's maternal grandma "Ma" made them every Saturday, even after she had a stroke and operated with one hand. I hope she told you about the next day leftovers - bean sandwiches! Cold beans between two slices of white bread with your choice of condiments. Ketchup, yellow mustard and relish were the norm. Some of the cousins weren't fans of the sandwiches but my paternal "Gramps" always made sure he was around for lunch on those days! My Mom still has Ma's beanpot, a very heavy aluminum dutch oven, blackened with age but still in regular use.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: HawkHat

                                I think about baked bean sandwiches a lot - I haven't had one since I was kid. The beans were thick and spreadable, and topped with ketchup and diced onion.

                              2. I'm from Michigan, but my dad was Boston denizen for many years before marrying. It wasn't at all unusual for us to have beans and Boston brown bread for a dinner now and again as a result. I make them now, mainly for large gathering. As Michigan is the biggest producer of Great Northern beans, I always use them, salt pork, molasses, ketchup and a little bit of vinegar after it's done. I'm always amazed at the depth of flavor and how good they are...so much great taste and food for such a little amount of money and effort. Now to make the brown bread and some date..

                                1. During my youth, my mother made baked beans. Like clockwork, she would have the Pinto beans soaking on Friday night, even when she started working and didn't get home until 11:30 at night. Every Saturday night we would have hot dogs and beans, and eat the beans on white bread spread with margarine. We used to joke that the Hot Dog and Bean police would bust in and haul us off if we didn't eat hot dogs and beans on Saturday night.

                                  1. Just wanted to give everyone a heads-up that my article will appear in Wednesday's edition of the Boston Globe, 2/29/12. I'll post a link when it's available on the website.

                                    1. My husband is from New England and had Baked Beans, Hot Dogs and Brown Bread every Sat night. Being from the south, this was new to me. I have the old bean pot, and make this recipe of baked beans for him whenever he wants them.
                                      Soak red kidney beans overnight
                                      Place drained beans in the pot, and add salt, mustard powder, molasses, brown sugar, meat of choice (usually salt pork or ham hock) cloves, ketchup and bacon, with enough water to cover. I add a whole onion with slices made in top and bottom to the pot. Bake in oven at 275 degrees for 6 hours.

                                        1. Yes, I've always lived in Boston and my mom always made beans during the winter month. She followed the Durgin Park recipe although I'm not sure if it's the same one they have on the website today. She would usually make some kind of roast pork and applesauce to serve with them. I continued the tradition, I make them a couple of times during the winter. In the last two years I've switched to a vegetarian version that tastes just about the same as if you use salt pork. I just add a little olive oil because I think the fat helps with the flavor and texture. I'm very happy eating a bowl of beans, apple sauce and some kind of bread for dunking!