Sunday, March 11, 2012

Thanksgiving - Baked Beans

      Baked beans are a simple, nutritious food, one that you might expect to prepare often for your family if you are on a tight budget or as an emergency situation food, or just because you love it. Because beans are one of the most important foods introduced to the Pilgrims after their arrival in the New World, it seems like the perfect addition to a Thanksgiving dinner, and a candidate for consideration in the Thanksgiving Challenge to grow as much as you can to serve as a part of this celebration.
      If you are a gardener you are probably aware that the American Indians grew corn, pumpkin, and beans (the Three Sisters) together and taught the Pilgrims their methods. All three foods most certainly appeared at the first Thanksgiving feast, but none would have been served as we would today. Consider the baked beans recipe below. This is a basic recipe, but very few of these ingredients would have been available to the Pilgrims. Would they have soaked their beans in water, added onions, honey or some herbs for flavoring? Sounds pretty bland.
       We, on the other hand, can pick all these up any time we visit our local grocery store. But suppose the roads are washed out or flooded following a major storm, or panic buying has emptied the shelves after a major disaster, or there's rioting in town and and it's not safe to go there, or you refuse to buy anything genetically modified, or (fill in the blank) and you can't buy what you need? Would you be able to prepare this simple dish? Suddenly, "simple" no longer applies. Consider what you would need to grow yourself to prepare a basic recipe like this.
       Navy beans, like green beans, are easy to grow. Shelling them is sort of fun. Put them in a cloth bag and beat the bag against a post. Open the bag and collect the beans.
       While I would like to grow my own pigs to guarantee my bacon comes from well-treated, healthy animals, my spouse tells me this isn't going to happen. Anyway, this blog is more about growing plants than animals. If I can't grow it myself, maybe I can find a neighbor who will trade bacon for something else I grow.
       Onions! There are so many varieties. My husband is the one who pores through seed catalogs, so I tell him to choose onions that keep well. I admit to not being an onion connoisseur. Mostly what I use is plain yellow varieties.
       Molasses and brown sugar, as I stated in an earlier blog, you can make yourself, and the taste is  superior to anything store-bought! If you go this route, look for heirloom seeds to avoid beets that have been genetically modified. It takes a lot of beets to make even a few cups of finished product. See my post Sugar Beets to Molasses - Homestead Style.
       Salt is one item I have no idea how to procure in an emergency, unless you live by the sea. Even then, as polluted as the sea might be, would you want to eat salt from there? Salt is one ingredient that I like to keep a good supply of on hand. Some folks use substitutes, but I haven't found anything that satisfies my taste buds as well.
       If you run out of pepper, ground, fully matured and dried nasturtium seeds might work for you as a substitute.
       I will try to grow mustard for the first time this year. I don't know of a substitute for it.
       I made catsup for the first time last year. No high fructose corn syrup! And the taste! It does take a lot of tomatoes and careful cooking down, but is very doable in a standard kitchen.
       If you cannot shop, you will not be able to make Worcestershire sauce. What makes Worcestershire sauce Worcestershire's sauce is the tamarind paste, not something you're likely to find in your backyard unless you live in the tropics. The recipe I used (see Worcestershire - to make a batch lists seventeen ingredients, among them curry powder, which I did not have so I mixed together as many of its dozen or so ingredients as I have on hand. I bought anchovies, fresh ginger, and cardamom pods along with the tamarind concentrate. You'll have to judge for yourself whether or not the effort here is work the results. I prefer the from-scratch option, but making this from homegrown produce is a stretch!
       So, I am presenting this "simple" Baked Bean recipe for your eating enjoyment whether you choose to use as much homemade as possible or buy everything. Whichever you do, think about how easy preparation is for us today compared with what the Pilgrims did. Be thankful for the difference!
                                                   Baked Beans
 Ingredients: 2 cups navy beans         1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
                    1/2 pound bacon            1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
                    1 onion, diced                1/2 cup catsup
                    3 Tbs molassses             1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
                    2 teaspoons salt              1/4 cup brown sugar

       Soak the beans overnight in cold water. Use this water to simmer the beans in until tender. This can mean an hour or two, over all day, depending on how old your beans are. Drain and reserve the liquid.
       If you are actually baking the beans, put them in a two quart baking dish. In a frying pan, cook the bacon until lightly browned, add onion and stir until tender. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Pour over the beans. Add enough reserved water to just cover the beans. Cover and bake at 325 degrees until tender, about three to four hours. Remove the lid after a couple of hours.
       I prefer using a crock pot. Put the beans, cooked bacon and onion in the pot. Add the rest of the ingredients. Set on high until the mixture simmers, then reduce the heat and cook until the beans are tender. Again, if the beans are old, cooking time will be much longer.
      In the oven or in the crock pot, check the beans occasionally and add more liquid if necessary.
      Leftover beans freeze well.
      Baked beans have never been a Thanksgiving food at my house, but perhaps they should be. What do you think?

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