A Harmony of Flavors

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 is done.

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
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 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. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter