For Christmas this year my daughter gave me Carla Hall’s Soul Food Cookbook. I have loved Carla Hall since I first saw her on Top Chef and she was my favorite part of the Chew. Her cookbook is great. The recipes are not complicated and the dishes are all comfort foods. Like the recipe I found for Slow Cooker Baked Beans. It’s been a long time since I made real, from scratch, baked beans. Where you have to let the beans soak overnight in cold salt water. Bushes beans with lots of add ins like bacon and ground beef and onions, etc. have been my fall back. Don’t get me wrong. Those are very good! But real baked beans that have cooked all day are true comfort food.
When we were kids my mother would sometimes make baked beans and homemade bread and that would be our Saturday supper. It wasn’t a side dish. It was supper. We didn’t have crock pots back then so the beans cooked in a big roaster in the oven for the better part of the day. Baked beans with warm bread slathered in butter. A good memory. I also remember having homemade baked beans for hot lunch at school. Back in the day they didn’t have stations in the school cafeteria where you could get pizza or visit a salad bar or put toppings on your hot dog or hamburger. You had lunch ladies in aprons and hair nets, who also cooked the food, ladle it on your plate and that’s what you ate. And we liked the food. At least I remember liking the food.
My dad obviously loved beans because they were a “camp” staple. Eaten at breakfast with eggs and potatoes and meat. Sometimes at supper with hot dogs or brats. I think Van de kamps beans were a camp favorite.
Fun bean facts: Navy beans got their name because they were a staple food of the US Navy in the early 20th century. They are a good, inexpensive, virtually fat free source of protein, fiber and vitamin B1, copper and manganese. They are one of 13,000 species of the family of legumes or plants that produce edible pods.
So…yesterday I made Carla Hall’s beans with a slight modification. I added bacon. Because everything is better with bacon.
4 slices of thick cut bacon diced
2 pounds of dried northern beans
1 large onion finely chopped
1 jalapeño chili seeded and minced
2-3 cloves of garlic thin sliced
1 T smoked paprika
1 T Worcestershire sauce
3/4 cup catsup
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses (I added an extra 1/4 cup of molasses)
3 T yellow mustard
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
This is the part that requires some planning ahead. Stir 3 T of kosher salt into 3 quarts of water until the salt dissolves. Add the beans, cover, and soak overnight in the refrigerator.
Drain the beans and transfer them to a 6 quart slow cooker. Mince the jalapeño, slice the garlic and dice the onion.
In a heavy skillet cook the bacon until most of the fat is rendered. Add the onions, jalapeño, and garlic. Stir occasionally over medium heat until the onions are translucent. About 5 minutes.
Stir in the smoked paprika, 2 tsp of salt and fresh ground pepper. Add the Worcestershire sauce, catsup, brown sugar, molasses, and mustard. Cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture starts to bubble.
Pour the sauce over the beans and add enough water (about 5 cups) to cover the beans by 2 inches.
Cover the cooker and cook on low until the beans are tender, 6 to 8 hours. Stir once or twice as they are cooking. Serve up while they’re hot and enjoy. Supper. Corn bread and beans.
I was messaging with a friend last night before we ate, bragging a little about how good these beans were smelling, and he told me his wife was cooking black-eyed peas and corn bread for their dinner. Unbeknownst to me, in the South, black-eyed peas, cowpeas, and beans, pork, and cornbread are symbolic foods served on New Year’s Day. They are considered “lucky” foods and, when eaten on New Year’s Day, are thought to bring a year of prosperity. The peas or beans are symbolic of pennies or coins. You’ll want to eat 365 of them. Corn bread, being the color of gold, represents wealth. The peas or beans and corn bread are supposed to be served with kale, collard, mustard or turnip greens which are the color of American currency and are supposed to add more wealth. There is a dish called Hoppin John which is a combination of rice, beans, greens and bacon. If you serve the left overs the next day its called Skippin Jenny and demonstrates one’s frugality. For the bad rap some people give beans I think after last night’s dinner 2019 will be a year of prosperity.
NOTE: I am quite certain my mother’s baked bean recipe did not include smoked paprika or a jalapeño. Just as I modified Carla Hall’s recipe a bit by adding bacon and a little extra molasses, feel free to customize this recipe to your own tastes. The beans would make a great vegetarian dish without the bacon and would be a great side dish with roast pork or sausage.