On my sister Rebekah and brother-in-law Peter’s Maine homestead, the copy of Woodstove Cookery: At Home on the Range by Jane Cooper isn’t just dog-eared, it’s cleaved in two, broken apart at page 144 because of Pete’s regular use of the baked beans recipe, which he prepares in the wood-fired brick bread oven he built outside. Cooper credits this recipe to Leila MacGregor of Tunbridge, Vermont, who in turn calls it “an old Vermont family recipe.” Besides preferring to use home-grown beans (Jacob’s cattle variety beans are particularly good for this treatment), Peter’s only deviation is in the sweetener: he uses slightly less molasses than the original recipe calls for and maple syrup (of course) instead of sugar. I take the sweetener down a touch more and add a little vinegar for brightening—plus smoked paprika to approximate the work of the traditional salt pork. Oh, and in keeping with the bean-cooking techniques taught to me by Rebekah (and later proven true by America’s Test Kitchen), I put in a little kombu to help soften the beans during their first cooking. Yes, these are twice-baked—first until tender with little other seasoning and then veeeeeerrrrrry slowly with the spices and sweeteners. If you want to shortcut it, use a pressure cooker for the first go and a slow cooker for the second—or an Instant Pot, in two rounds, for the whole shebang. To be even more authentic, fire up the wood oven and/or use a stoneware bean pot.
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
- Combine the beans with enough water to cover by 2 inches in a Dutch oven or other large pot over medium-high heat. Add the kombu. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat, cover, and transfer to the oven. Bake until the beans are very tender, 60 to 90 minutes, checking a time or two to add water if they are no longer covered by it.
- Remove the kombu and reduce the temperature to 200 º F. To the pot add the onion, molasses, maple syrup, salt, mustard, paprika, ginger, and pepper and bake for 8 hours, until the beans are falling-apart tender and infused with flavor. Stir in the vinegar, taste, and add more vinegar and salt if needed.
- Serve hot, either as a side dish or over roasted potatoes and with a garden-fresh salad for a true Maine homesteader’s meal. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 3 months.
Reprinted with permission from Cool Beans: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking with the World's Most Versatile Plant-Based Protein, with 125 Recipes by Joe Yonan, copyright © 2020. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Photography credit: Aubrie Pick © 2020