Friday, February 8, 2013

My Mother-in-Law's Famous Baked Beans

When I joined my husband's family almost 25 years ago, one of the things I learned early on is that there is no substitute for his Mom's baked beans. I was assured it was somehow impossible to replicate them, and the family had tried. Not one to back down from such a challenge, I wondered about this, but when his parents came to visit one time, I asked Mom R to make them, so I could see how it was done.
Mom Rawstern's Famous Baked Beans

She said we needed a ham bone, with some meat left on it, preferably about a pound. Check. Had one of those in the freezer, since I like to make bean soup with ham. She said we needed ketchup, some brown sugar and molasses. Check, check and check. Doing good so far. We needed white beans, preferably Great Northern. These I did not have in the pantry, alas. We took a trip to the grocery store and rectified that lapse. She sorted through the beans, checking for bits of dirt and such, washed them and left them to soak overnight.

Next morning she got down to business and set the beans in water in a large pot. Adding in the ham bone, she turned on the beans to boil, lowered the heat and covered the pot and allowed the beans to simmer away for a couple of hours on top of the stove. The next thing she did was remove the bone, cutting off the meat and adding that back in, and next went in the other three ingredients. We had a 32 ounce bottle of ketchup, and most of that was used, or something like over 2 cups worth. About a half cup of dark brown sugar went in next, and a couple of tablespoons of molasses. She stirred the mixture, covered the pot and placed into a low oven, about 260 to 280 degrees, or whatever maintains a simmer. Now, she said, 4 or 5 hours of baking and they are ready for supper.  

Mom Rawstern's Famous Baked Beans

Mom Rawstern's Famous Baked Beans

Five ingredients and long slow cooking make these baked beans a hit at any time. If the thought of ketchup puts you off, think about the fact that ketchup has all the flavor ingredients already included; spices, vinegar, sugar. You need a long day at home to babysit these, but the recipes is large and they freeze very well, so it's easy to have them at any time.

Makes one large pot of beans

1 pound great northern beans, picked over and soaked overnight
1 leftover ham bone with at least 1 pound of meat left on
2 cups ketchup
½ cup dark brown sugar
2 Tablespoons molasses

When ready to begin the recipe, place the beans with their soaking water into a 8 quart, oven-safe soup pot. Make sure the water covers the beans by about 2 inches. Set the ham bone into the beans and water; the water will not cover all the ham bone; this is fine. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to maintain a simmer. Cover and cook for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to about 275 degrees, or whatever temperature will maintain a low simmer. Add in the ketchup, brown sugar and molasses and stir. Bring back to a boil and cover the pot. Set pot into the oven and allow to slowly simmer for 4 to 5 hours more. If the beans still look soupy, remember that once they cool they will thicken significantly. If making these for a party, it is best to make them at least a day in advance, giving them time to thicken to proper consistency.

NOTES: With any beans, it is best to soak them overnight in water to cover by about 3 inches. If you forget, put the picked over and washed beans into a large pot with water to cover by 2 to 3 inches and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and allow to stand for 1 hour, then proceed with the recipe.

So what was the difficulty?

Looking at this recipe, it was way too easy. Why would it be so difficult to mimic? All these years later, I was asked to take her one cookbook and make all of her recipes into a cookbook for the family. I love my husband's family a lot, and I put heart and soul into that compilation of recipes, including a lot of family photos. Mom R did not use her one cookbook for the recipes, but just as a place to write in her own, anywhere there was a bit of space. Sometimes, in 3 or 4 different places. And sometimes, all of them were slightly different. Aha! This might be the problem. Mom R changed her recipes over time, it appears, and the recipe was written one way for this person in the family, another for that person. In some recipes she has onion added. In some were onion flakes.  Some had more or less of an ingredient. I guess it would be harder to truly know the recipe that way.

Looking at this recipe, I have stuck with the it as she gave it to me, with one difference. I know that any bone in a soup or stew gives immense flavor. I leave the bone in for the entire cooking time. At the point the beans are done, the meat literally dissolves off the bone, and the bone is easily removed, bare. My husband has always been extremely pleased with the outcome of my version of his Mom's best recipe, and that is what counts.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.