Baked beans, baby!

April 11, 2011

You may recall that following our highway harvesting a couple of weeks ago I found myself with a kilo of fresh borlotti beans and no idea what to do with them. Until I asked good old Twitter for ideas (so useful for a quick shout-out, that place) and @BZB suggested Boston baked beans – bingo!

For years I’ve seen gorgeous-looking recipes for luscious, caramelly Boston baked beans and always wanted to try them, but had never gotten around to it. So this time I did, and now I’m addicted. I even love canned baked beans as an instant comfort food, but as we try to avoid packaged and processed stuff as much as possible these days, so I haven’t eaten them in years.

A quick trawl for real baked bean recipes showed that most traditional recipes seem to use treacle, and lots include some form of smoked pork. I wanted to do this quickly, and without having to shop for strange ingredients (can’t see myself using treacle much round here ….) so I did the usual kinds of kitchen substitutions and ended up with my own quickish and easy version. I’ve made these baked beans twice now, once with the fresh borlottis and once with dried white beans. The picture here is with the white beans, and as they’re more usually to hand, so is this recipe.

With our lovely fresh roadside borlottis (pictured podded here) there was no soaking involved, obviously. In fact despite being a bit unsure of what to do, I just tossed them uncooked into the saucy mix and baked them for several hours – while I was off attending a pro-carbon tax rally, to be precise. And let me tell you, there’s nothing like a bit of good old-fashioned sign-waving, foot-stomping, slogan-shouting protesting for working up an appetite for these babies! (and no, I won’t be sullying this blog with the gags about gases and emissions that are just begging to be made right here; you’ll have to enjoy those in the privacy of your own home…!)

Back to the recipe. I began with Maggie Beer, as I so often do, and her recipe for Boston baked beans from Maggie’s Kitchenthe same recipe is conveniently provided on her website here. I’ve always found Maggie’s recipes work perfectly, so am sure this one would do as well, but as I was improvising with stuff to hand, my baked beans are a little different. First, as I said, I skipped the treacle and instead used a combination of maple syrup and honey. I also used ordinary (but scrumptious free range) bacon instead of smoked pork belly or speck, and my beans didn’t take as long to cook as indicated in her recipe. Otherwise, it’s really very much the same. Here’s what I did. The cloves and bay leaves are especially essential.


  • 500g dried white beans
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 large onion, halved
  • 100g smoky bacon
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped Roma tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup Red Wine Vinegar
  • Salt & pepper


1. Soak the beans overnight (these days I add a few spoonsful of natural yoghurt to the soaking water, as recommended by Zoe, the Bean Queen, who knows stuff about stuff and tells me the enzymes rolling about in this process aids with alleviation of the aforementioned gaseous emissions! Am yet to try adding kombu, which is even better, apparently – care to elaborate, Ms Zoe?). Discard the water and rinse.

2. Place the beans in a heavy pan, cover with water and slowly bring to the boil. Simmer gently over low heat for around half an hour; drain and leave to cool.

3. Preheat oven to 140 degrees C.

3. In a bowl combine the mustard, honey and maple syrup.

4. Insert 1 clove into each onion half, then toss over a high heat for a few minutes in a large, ovenproof heavy-based saucepan, casserole or deep-frying pan with the bacon and bay leaves and a splash of oil.

5. Add tomatoes, beans and the mustard mix, stir and cover.

6. Bake in the oven for anything up to four hours, checking every 30 minutes or so to see how tender the beans are and adding water if it gets too dry.

7. For the last half hour, remove the lid, add the vinegar and cook uncovered.

8. When beans are as tender as you like them, check seasoning – adjusting the sweetness to taste – and serve. These are fantastic with poached eggs for a hearty weekend breakfast, or on their own in a small bowl for a workday lunch.

Now – much as I love these, I would also love your version. Anybody made them? What’s your twist?


  1. A couple of spoons of good yoghurt (or whey, or buttermilk) and a piece of kombu starts a lacto-fermentation which reduces the phytic acid (phytates) what make you fart 🙂 and oligiosaccharides which we can only partly address.

    All according to Jude Blereau, but I don’t cook beans any other way now. Only way I know to get the inside and skin of the bean cooked at the same time. She also suggests soaking organic pulses need longer soaking than non-organic.

    Beans look good 🙂

  2. Such a good time to start talking baked beans. Melbourne’s getting a bit cool these mornings although I do love beans for any meal of the day.
    Your recipe looks yum and much less complicated than the ones I make (which I love and make in vast quantities to freeze). My recipe comes from the now defunct Riverstone Cafe in Bellingen:


    I don’t add the maple syrup, but I do like the depth the smoked paprika adds, as well as the carrot and capsicum.


  3. I’m embarrassed to admit that I lived for three years in Boston, and never made any baked beans.

    I have all the ingredients (except the beans) on hand in my pantry, though, so… maybe this weekend?

  4. I wonder why they are actually called Boston beans, anyway? I think as a former resident, Adele, it’s your job to find out and report back.

    Louise, I am rather excited about that recipe and am going to give it a shot. I have been asked about vego recipes and this very nearly fits the bill. Given all the other flavours in this Bellingen one, if you ditched the pig it might not be too bland… but also Steph, I believe you know of a total veg BB recipe? Do share, if you’re out there.

    Zoe, very grateful for your prompt attention to the issue of emissions – so am I fooling myself in using just the yoghurt with no kombu? You need both, is that what you’re saying?

    • Yes! sorry for the delay. It’s a Karen Martini one with the usual brown sugar and vinegar, a la Boston, but with leeks, mustard seeds and curry powder! It’s very forgiving re method and bean choice.

  5. They look delicious, Shuckin’ Charlotte – love dem beans! You know where we had fantastic baked beans? India. I still smack my lips thinking about them. Sooo disappointing when cafes just open a can when we know how good baked beans can be. Yum.

  6. I think it’s a mistake to leave out the treacle. It has a better taste for beans(maple syrup and honey? Yuk.) and is not exotic at all since CSR makes the stuff from good old Queensland sugar(green plastic jar with yellow lid) and it is sold at Coles and Woolworths.

  7. I googled the phrase, “I am addicted to baked beans” just to see what would come up and enjoyed finding this post. I live near Boston and got onto a Boston baked beans kick this winter. As it is once again unseasonably cold, I made yet ANOTHER pot. I soak navy beans overnight and then simmer them for 1.5 or so hours until they’re soft but not mushy. I layer them with chopped bacon and onion and top them with a sauce made of ketchup, molasses, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, and pepper. I bake that in a proper bean pot for 4 hours covered, stir them and then and cook them uncovered for the last hour. They are the perfect food, although I’m sure horrible for my arteries since I use a 16 oz package of (organically farmed) bacon for each pot of beans. They perfume the whole house. I need rehab.

  8. Well: actual molasses and pomegranate molasses / goat boerewors instead of bacon (just because they were there) / only had few beans so included puy lentils / big splash of muscat / had it with baked sweet potato, b. sprouts and sauerkraut: the last, with the clove flavour coming through – fabulous. I think I’ll call them ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ baked beans.

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