I was prowling the bookstore the other day when, just beyond the Harry Potter wing, I bumped into a section that dealt exclusively with celebrity cookbooks.
    Good grief. I had no idea that so many famous people enjoyed eating. I found it curious that all those uber-thin celebs are willing to fatten up their incomes by writing books about their gustatory passions.     
    This inspired me to share the following family recipe which comes with a little story and absolutely no guarantees. You get what you pay for.     
    My mother’s baked beans is one of my favorite dishes. I believe this is chiefly because those beans saved my life the summer when I was 9.     
    My family and I were motoring to our annual mid-summer potluck picnic and Nelson family reunion in a nearby town. We kids looked forward to this event all year, not only because we got a day-long break from our dairy farm but also because the park where the picnic was held featured a large public swimming pool.     
    Our venerable ‘53 Chevy decided to die about halfway into the 30-mile journey. Dad lifted the hood and tried to effect repairs while Mom, my seven siblings and I huddled anxiously in the car.     
    Time wore on and the aromas wafting from Mom’s fried chicken and baked beans began to make us drool. We begged Mom to have a taste. “Just a smidgeon,” we pleaded.     
    Mom finally relented. As cars and trucks whizzed by on Highway 81, we laid waste to our family’s contribution to the potluck. Since there was not any of Aunt Shirleen’s Jell-O salad or Cousin Edna’s rhubarb pie to help fill me up, I compensated by partaking of several large helpings of Mom’s baked beans.     
    Dad finally got the car going, and we straggled into the picnic area. We kids tore off to join our cousins who were already splashing joyously in the pool.     
    I raced to the pool and, in my haste, mistakenly leaped into the deep end. I didn’t know how to swim a single stroke (I still don’t). Fortunately, the beans had already begun to work their magic and had started to produce ... vapors.     
    Not just a small amount, though. We’re talking quantities which, if captured, would be sufficient to inflate the Goodyear blimp. Due to my highly gaseous content, I bobbed back to the surface like a bloated blonde cork.     
    Such is the stuff of miracles, but you would never have known it according to my family. On our way home later that day, all they could do is complain loud and long about my windy condition. Several of my siblings voted that I be forced to ride in the trunk.     
    Now for the business of the recipe. Begin by boiling a pound or two of great northern beans. This legume is extremely versatile; in their uncooked state, they can be used to cut diamonds. Plan on a cooking time of at least three days.
    An alternative would be to purchase pre-cooked beans at the supermarket. But doing so would negate the Zen of this whole process. You will never develop patience nor experience the gift of learning how to chisel scorched beans from the bottom of a pot.     
    Brown half a pound of bacon that has been cut into bite-sized chunks and add it to the beans. Brown a chopped onion and toss it into the pot. You could skip the onion if you like, but that would be a sacrilege in my book.
    Now for the tricky part. Nothing from here on is very precise. Every batch of beans is unique and surprising.     
    Squirt some ketchup into the beans. I don’t know how much; I simply add enough to make the beans look somewhat bloody. Plop in a dollop of yellow mustard, a couple handfuls of brown sugar and a few glugs of dark molasses. Cover the beans and slowly simmer them until they take on the color of the pot liquor.
    Adjust the ingredients to suit your taste. If the beans are too bitter, add brown sugar; if they are too sweet, add mustard or ketchup. For a fuller flavor, add more molasses.     
    Finishing flourishes might include a dash or two of liquid smoke. You can also substitute ham or side pork for the bacon. Purists like me go the extra mile by stirring in the bacon drippings.     
    If you try this recipe and it does not turn out, do not call me. And if it is a success, bear this in mind: Riding in the car’s trunk may not be very pleasant, but these scrumptious baked beans are definitely worth it.
    Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, South Dakota. 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.