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Some dishes are seasonal, like cool salads and sandwiches during summer and warm, hearty roasts and casseroles for winter. Baked beans have no season, because they need none. They’re just as welcome at summer barbecues as they are at winter socials. Baked beans can be a side dish, a main course, easy leftovers, and they even go well on a breakfast plate. And they make for inexpensive, oftentimes healthful fare. Whenever and however you eat them, they are savory, sweet, and satisfying.

Baked beans are also a truly American dish. Long before the Pilgrims settled on a rock called Plymouth, Native Americans were baking dried beans with maple syrup in earthen pots buried in pits filled with hot wood coals. Later, recipes brought molasses, brown sugar, salt pork, bacon, hamburger, spices, even pineapple to the mix, all according to region, taste, and tradition. Even the beans themselves are the subject of debate and opinion; some claim the only bean to be baked is the Great Northern, while others insist on butter beans. Others believe any dried bean can be baked, in any combination, including kidney and lima beans.

Some recipes don’t even call for baking, instead producing a stewed dish that is less thick. Canned baked beans–a staple for camping trips and in bachelor pads–are stewed, and can be used as a base for baking recipes.

Tony Padgett’s Vermont bean-hole beans

Yields 6 to 8 servings.

2 pounds mixed dried beans (lima beans, soldier beans, cranberry beans)

6 ounces salt pork, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 ham hock, optional

1/4 cup blackstrap molasses

1 1/4 cups dark maple syrup

1 large onion, quartered

1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Rinse and drain beans, and place in large bowl or stockpot. Add enough water to cover beans by 3 inches. Soak for 10 to 12 hours, or overnight, adding water as needed. Drain well.

Place beans in 5-quart bean pot or Dutch oven, and add enough water to cover by about 2 inches. Bring to boiling over high heat; reduce heat and simmer for 45 to 60 minutes, skimming foam from surface. Add water as needed. Beans are done when skins crack when you blow on them. Remove from heat and drain.

Preheat oven to 250 F.

Fill medium stockpot halfway with water and bring to simmer. Add drained beans. Add salt pork, ham hock, molasses, syrup, and onion. Stir in salt, ginger, mustard, pepper, and thyme. Mix well. Add enough hot water to cover beans by 1 inch.

Cover pot, and transfer to oven. Bake for 4 1/2 to 6 hours, or until beans are soft. Check regularly, adding water as needed so beans aren’t dry. Beans should be tender, but not soupy or mushy. Cool slightly before serving.

To make using a bean hole: While beans soak, dig a hole in the ground 2 to 3 feet deep and 2 to 3 feet wide, large enough to allow 6 inches of space on all sides and above pot. Line bottom of hole with fist-sized smooth stones. Build a fire inside hole with hardwood. Maintain fire until hole is 3/4 filled with coals. Prepare beans for baking, then remove 1/3 hot coals and set aside. Remove any unburned wood chunks. Place pot in hole. Cover with several sheets of aluminum foil, followed by removed coals. Cover with soil, and lightly tamp down. Cover with tarp or sheet of metal. Allow to bake overnight.

Jessie’s baked beans

Yields 6 to 8 servings.

1 pound bacon, divided

1 tablespoon cooking oil

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1 can (55 ounces) baked beans

1 cup ketchup

1 tablespoon mustard

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 300 F.

Reserve 3 to 5 slices bacon. Cut remaining bacon into 1/2-inch pieces.

In large skillet over medium heat, add oil. Add onion and bacon pieces, and saute, stirring often, until onions are caramelized and bacon is slightly crisp. Add beans, and stir to combine, scraping bottom of pan. (This helps add smoky flavor to the beans.)

In medium bowl, combine ketchup, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and salt. Stir into bean mixture.

Transfer bean mixture to bean crock or 9-inch baking pan, and cover with reserved bacon slices.

Bake for 3 to 4 hours, or until beans reach desired consistency, cooking longer for thicker beans.

As beans bake, excess fat may separate and rise to top. Remove beans from oven and use paper towels to remove excess fat. Return beans to oven.

Serve hot.

Three-bean and pineapple baked beans

Yields 6 to 8 servings.

1 can (16 ounces) butter lima beans, drained

1 can (16 ounces) red kidney beans, drained

1 can (16 ounces) baked beans

1 can (8 ounces) chunk pineapple, drained, chopped, and liquid reserved

1/4 pound bacon, cooked and coarsely crumbled

1/2 cup chopped onion

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon mustard

1/2 cup ketchup

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In large bowl, combine beans, pineapple, bacon, onion, brown sugar, mustard, and ketchup.

Transfer mixture to 5-quart Dutch oven or bean pot. Bake for 45 minutes, or until desired consistency is reached. If beans seem dry, add some reserved pineapple juice.

Calico beans

Yields 6 to 8 servings.

1 pound ground beef

1/2 pound bacon, diced

1 medium onion, chopped

1 cup ketchup

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vinegar

2 cans (16 ounces each) pork and beans

1 can (16 ounces) kidney beans, drained

1 can (16 ounces) butter lima beans, drained

1 can (16 ounces) white northern beans, drained

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

In large skillet over medium heat, cook beef, bacon, and onion until beef is browned, breaking into crumbles as it cooks. Drain excess grease.

In medium bowl, combine ketchup, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and vinegar. Add beans and beef mixture, and mix well.

Transfer to 3-quart baking dish, and bake for about 45 minutes.