Boston Baked Beans and Boston Brown Bread

Some weekend mornings I wake up, realize I don’t need to be anywhere for the whole day, and wonder what kind of slow-cooking meal I can cook at my leisure all day – especially when it’s freezing outside and I want to warm up the kitchen. This morning was such a morning and I immediately thought of Boston baked beans and Boston brown bread. As many of you – at least the Americans – may know, baked beans and steamed brown bread were New England staples since Colonial times, traditionally cooking all day in Puritan homes and served for Saturday dinner. In fact, beans played such an important role that Boston is sometimes called Beantown. A little googling just now informs me that the Puritans learned how to make beans from the Native Americans, eventually replacing the maple syrup and bear fat in their recipe with molasses and salt pork. You don’t have to slaughter a bear to make my version, you’ll be glad to know. Nor a pig; I don’t even know what salt pork is though I assume it’s just pork that’s been cured with salt, which I know was a popular thing to do in Colonial times.

If you search for Boston baked bean recipes, you’ll find that nearly all of them call for ketchup. I find this bizarre. We have a baked bean recipe in my family (though we’re not from New England; most my ancestors hovered pretty near the Mason Dixon line); I believe it was my great Aunt Joyce’s but my mother would have to confirm. I don’t have access to it, unfortunately, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t contain ketchup. Ketchup sounds like a strange addition to me, and in fact, Google tells me that under no circumstances should ANY tomato products go into traditional Boston baked beans. I couldn’t resist putting tomato sauce in mine, though, and obviously I’m not putting pork in it, so my version isn’t traditional. It’s traditional in spirit though, in that I’ve been slowly cooking it all day and am anticipating an unassuming, filling, nutritious meal.

Boston Baked Beans

1 lb dried navy or other small white beans (I measured this for you in case you don’t have a scale and it’s about 2 1/4 cups. But you should get a scale.)
3-4 cups bean cooking liquid (and/or water)
1 onion, diced
3 large cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 cup molasses
1 small can (8 oz) tomato sauce
3 Tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp vinegar (I used apple cider)
1 Tbsp liquid smoke
1 Tbsp dry mustard
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
2 bay leaves

Soak the beans overnight, or do a quick soak, which is what I did: cover beans with water …

… bring to a boil and cook two minutes, then remove from heat and soak for an hour.

Cover soaked beans with a 2-3 inches of water, bring to a boil, then simmer for an hour or two, or until tender enough to easily bite but overly soft. Check periodically and add more water if necessary.

Drain beans, reserving liquid. Also, preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Smash the garlic.

Dice the onion.

Put the beans and the rest of the ingredients in a bean pot, Dutch oven, or other oven-proof dish. (Have I mentioned that I’m in love with my new Dutch oven?)

Stir to combine.

Cover and bake 5 to 8 hours. Check on the beans periodically, stirring and adding more liquid if necessary.

Remove from oven. These could also have been cooked in a pressure cooker for 45 minutes, or in a crockpot all day.

Boston Brown Bread

I followed this recipe from Epicurious exactly (other than substituting oil for the butter and and non-dairy milk for the milk); it got really high ratings and looked good and simple, so I figured there was no need to change it up. I probably should have used blackstrap molasses but all I had on hand was mild flavoured. It turned out fine.

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup whole rye flour
1/2 cup corn meal
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup non-dairy milk (I used hemp; I’m a freakin’ hippie.)
1/3 cup molasses
1/2 cup dried currants or raisins

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Whisk together the dry ingredients.

Whisk in the molasses and non-dairy milk, then fold in the currants or raisins.

Rub or brush the interior of a 28-oz aluminum can (from which the top but not the bottom has been removed) generously with oil, then pour in the batter. If you use different sized cans or change the quantities of the ingredients, just be sure to fill the can(s) no more than two thirds full as the bread will rise quite a bit.

Cover tightly with foil and secure with a rubber band (or tie with string).

Place an in an oven-safe dish or pot and fill with boiling water (that electric kettle of mine sure is handy!) to a point halfway up the can.

Put in the oven and steam for 2 to 3 hours. Check periodically and add more water to the pot if necessary. The original recipe said to steam for two hours, removing when an inserted skewer comes out clean, but I found it took closer to three hours to be done and it was still quite moist – almost too moist to eat easily. So next time I might cut back on the liquid just a smidge. Let cool in can for 30 to 60 minutes. (The original recipe said an hour, but I was already behind schedule because it was steaming for longer than it said, so I probably only cooled for half an hour.)

Slide out of can. Mine slid right out, but if yours doesn’t, just remove the bottom of the can and push it through.

Slice to serve. I was so caught up in making the beans and bread, as well as making a batch of tofu at the same time, that I completely forgot to make a vegetable to serve with them, so I just grabbed some corn, or as the Indians call it, maize, from the freezer. Mark informed me this was really good, and that he experienced several different taste sensations, including sweet, bitter, etc., terming it very “mouth palate-y”. I think that’s good anyway.

Here is a carrot sunflower bread I also baked today:

I think Whole Foods should start paying me to be a roving advice giver. I don’t know what it is about me, but people are compelled to ask me for help in grocery stores. I have lost count of the number of times people have randomly asked me what a certain vegetable looks like and where they can find it. Fortunately for them, I probably know better than most customers – and possibly employees – what everything in the produce department is, but I don’t know how they know that. Some guy asked me to help him figure out if he’s allergic to a certain detergent today; that was new. And also today a lady asked me what kind of tofu she should buy and how she should prepare it. I wasn’t even buying tofu. I mean, THIS is what I look like:

Would you approach this person and solicit her advice? Does this look like “Tofu Expert” to you? (Okay, I wasn’t wearing the hat in Whole Foods – today.) The weird thing is I am a tofu, and a produce, expert, but I don’t think I necessarily give off that vibe just by looking at me. Usually it’s produce questions, though. I’ve explained what shallots, sunchokes, kumquats, horseradish, chard, and umpteen other vegetables are, where they are located, how to tell if they’re fresh, and how to cook them. In fact, I’ve only ever been unable to answer one question: once, in Wegmans, someone asked me where to find some sort of meat and I told her I didn’t even know where the meat department is, which is true, although I know Wegmans like the back of my hand, so you’d think I would know where it was if only to avoid it. Both Whole Foods and Wegmans should at least give me a discount on my bill for all the customers I’ve helped for them. I guess I just find it strange because it would never occur to me to ask a random shopper questions like those. At best, I’d ask an employee where something was if I couldn’t find it. But I’d never walk up to someone and say, “hey, do you know how to cook tofu?” I really don’t mind, though. Elsewhere, it’s rare I’m asked questions I actually know the answers to, so I enjoy feeling useful for once. I just think it’d be awesome if WF and Wegmans rewarded me for my helpfulness!


  1. Josiane Said,

    January 10, 2010 @ 11:42 pm

    Baked beans are traditional here too, but I have yet to make them myself. My grandmothe rused to make both a traditional and a vegetarian version, but I don’t have her recipe. Yours sounds great, though, and a very good starting point to make up mine. Thanks for sharing it!

    It’s funny that you get asked questions that often when you’re grocery shopping! It’s happened to me once that a complete stranger asked me a totally random question at the grocery store: he wanted to know where he could find the charcoal briquets. The funny thing is, though I couldn’t be of any help to him, he came back later to tell me he had found them. All I could think of as an answer was “uh, well, good for you”, but then I realised that, had I not been so slow on the uptake, I probably would have been invited to a barbecue… 🙂

  2. Mom Said,

    January 11, 2010 @ 8:58 am

    I don’t think I ever got Aunt Joyce’s baked bean recipe.

    People ask me questions about where stuff is in the grocery store too, and sometimes they even strike up a conversation about what they are going to do with the item. If I can’t find something that I want, I will eventually just give up and not get it. Or if I am really desperate, I will ask at the Customer Service desk. Plus I have to sometimes help short people get stuff from the top shelf.

  3. Renee Said,

    January 11, 2010 @ 9:44 am

    People ALWAYS stop and ask me at WH too! The good thing is, I made one of my best friends that way! What is it?? The name??

  4. Renee Said,

    January 11, 2010 @ 9:45 am

    Oops! That would be WF……

  5. Brandi Said,

    January 11, 2010 @ 11:53 pm

    I have the exact same problem! No matter where I go everyone asks me questions. About food, about weather, once when I was at the zoo a woman asked me about African elephants. Luckily I knew the answer to her question. LOL

  6. Jes Said,

    January 12, 2010 @ 2:00 pm

    I think that’s great that random people come up to you and ask for advice! Only a few people have done that to me, and more often than not I don’t know what to tell them. I’m horrid at on-the-fly recipe suggestions.

    The baked beans and bread look fabulous. I’ve been meaning to make another pot of beans soon, since it’s actually the kind of weather that works for them (i.e. not July).

  7. Courtney Said,

    January 12, 2010 @ 5:59 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I have been looking for a good baked bean recipe for ages and ages that did not contain 1) refined sugar (brown or white) and 2) did not contain the dreaded ketchup! So thank you! I cannot wait to try this…I think it will be made in the crock pot while I am at work on Thursday 🙂 Question–would you just cook it on low all day?

    Did I mention thank you?!?

  8. trinity Said,

    January 12, 2010 @ 10:00 pm

    beans + toast = my own personal heaven. Nice photo, puppeteer.

  9. Monique Said,

    January 13, 2010 @ 11:16 am

    This looks so good! It’s 10 am and I want to run to the store and get all the necessary ingredients and have this for my lunch!

  10. renae Said,

    January 13, 2010 @ 11:53 am

    Wow, comments from both a Renee and a Renae (Monique Renae) – that’s quite unusual!

    Courtney, I think you’d be okay on low as long as they were soaked beforehand and you cooked them for at least 8 hours. Make sure you use plenty of liquid if you aren’t going to be home to check on it, as the beans will absorb quite a bit and you don’t want them to dry out.

  11. Courtney Said,

    January 13, 2010 @ 5:46 pm

    Thanks Renae! I have the beans soaking now, and I am planning on making them in the crock pot tomorrow. I am usually gone from the apt for at least 10 hours a day, so they should def get cooked. Good point about adding more liquid…do you think an extra cup would be enough? Or maybe two?

    Thanks again!

  12. renae Said,

    January 13, 2010 @ 5:58 pm

    Courtney, I think all said, I ended up using 4 cups liquid for mine; I added more every time I checked on them and they kept soaking it up. You don’t want them to be too soupy, although I suppose you could try to boil off extra liquid when you got home if you had to. I’d just make sure they were covered by at least a couple of inches. Let me know how it goes!

  13. Courtney Said,

    January 13, 2010 @ 5:46 pm

    Thanks Renae! I have the beans soaking now, and I am planning on making them in the crock pot tomorrow. I am usually gone from the apt for at least 10 hours a day, so they should def get cooked. Good point about adding more liquid…do you think an extra cup would be enough? Or maybe two?

    Thanks again!

  14. Courtney Said,

    January 14, 2010 @ 5:18 pm


    Darn–they DID get too soupy, lol! I added 1 cup of extra water early this morning, and now that I am home I have the crock pot turned up to high and the lid ajar to get some of the liquid cooked off…I really like the flavor of them, though!


  15. Mo Said,

    January 17, 2010 @ 4:02 am

    Everything looks great. That’s pretty funny about people always asking you questions in the grocery store.

  16. Mo Said,

    January 17, 2010 @ 4:02 am

    Everything looks great. That’s pretty funny about people always asking you questions in the grocery store.

  17. janice Said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

    Hey pretty girl!!!
    Where is your recipe for the carrot sunflower bread? It looked amazing!
    Also, I get asked for directions when I’m travelling. Natives to a country will ask me for help! It’s strange because I have an innate sense of direction but like you I don’t feel I look like I do. Maybe they are using a part of our brains we don’t use and others are more developed in?! Anyway Cheers!

  18. Bill Said,

    February 4, 2012 @ 10:34 am

    Just discovered your website. Recipes look great as do the photos of them.would you know how to adjust the ingredients to make the brown bread(Boston steamed)gluten free?
    Also I can’t wait to try the kimchi

  19. Bill Said,

    February 4, 2012 @ 10:40 am

    I forgot to mention that in the past(20yearsago)when I made brown bread I put it in the oven,directly on the rack after removing it from the cans.I can’t remember what temp or for how long but it made it a little drier and gave itba little bit of a crust.

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