I was prowling the bookstore the other day when I stumbled across a section that dealt exclusively with celebrity cook books.
Good grief. I had no idea so many famous people enjoyed eating. Less surprising, though, was the fact they were willing to pen tell-all books about their culinary passions, boosting their incomes and burnishing their bona fides as regular people.
This inspired me to share with you the following family recipe, which comes with a true tell-all story and absolutely no guarantees. You get what you pay for.
My mom's baked bean recipe is one of my favorites. This is because her beans saved my life the summer when I was 7.
Our family was driving to our annual mid-summer potluck picnic and family reunion in a nearby town. My seven siblings and I looked forward to this event all year. Not just because we got a daylong break from our dairy farm, but also because the picnic area was situated near a public swimming pool.
Halfway through our 30-mile journey, our rickety '53 Chevy decided to die. Dad opened its hood and tried to effect repairs while Mom and us kids huddled anxiously in the car.
As time passed, the aroma from Mom's fried chicken and baked beans began to make us drool. We begged Mom to have a taste. "Just a smidgen," we said.
Mom soon relented. As cars whizzed past on the nearby highway, we laid waste to our family's contribution to the potluck. Since there wasn't any of Aunt Lois's Jell-O salad or Cousin Edna's rhubarb pie to fill me up, I compensated by consuming an extra-large portion of Mom's baked beans.
Dad eventually revived the car. Upon arriving at the picnic area, we tore off to join our cousins in the swimming pool.
I raced to the pool and in my haste, mistakenly jumped into the deep end. Unfortunately, I didn't know how to swim a stroke. Fortunately, the beans had already begun to ... produce their special magic.
Not just a little magic, though. We're talking volumes of magic which, if captured, could have inflated the Goodyear blimp. Thanks to my gaseous nature, I bobbed back to the water's surface like a bloated blonde cork.
I deemed this nothing less than a miracle. My family, however, viewed it quite differently. On our way home that day, all they could do was complain about my windy condition. Several family members voted I be compelled to ride in the trunk.
Now let's get down to the business of Mom's baked bean recipe. Begin by boiling or pressure cooking a couple of pounds of Great Northern White beans. These are a versatile legume. Uncooked, they are hard enough to be used as bullets. Figure on a cooking time of approximately three days.
Thankfully, there are jars of pre-cooked beans available at most supermarkets. You can save a ton of work and worry by purchasing pre-cooked beans instead of cranking up your old pressure cooker.
Start the beans a-simmering in a large pot. In a skillet, brown four (or more) strips of bacon that have been cut into bite-sized chunks. Toss the bacon into the beans. Using the same skillet, brown half (or more) of a chopped onion and toss that into the beans. I suppose you could skip the onion if you like, but that would constitute a sacrilege in my book.
Now comes the tricky part. From here on out, nothing is exact. This is why every batch of beans is unique and somewhat of a surprise.
Add ketchup to the bean/bacon/onion mixture. How much? I don't know; I just stir in enough to make everything look nice and pink. Next comes a dollop of yellow mustard, a handful of brown sugar and a glug or so of dark molasses.
Cover the beans and let them simmer until they become the same color as the pot liquor. Adjust things to suit your taste. For example, if the beans seem too bitter, add more brown sugar. If they are too sweet, add a little more mustard or ketchup. For a more robust flavor, dump in additional molasses.
Some tweaks might include adding a splash of liquid smoke or using ham or side pork instead of bacon. Purists (like me) go the extra mile by folding in the bacon drippings.
So, there you go. If you try this recipe and it doesn't turn out, don't call me. And if it does turn out, just remember: riding in the trunk may not be fun, but these beans are definitely worth it.
Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, S.D. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry's great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.