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  • Robert Bruce Adams

Better Baked Beans

I RECENTLY DUSTED OFF AN OLD COOKBOOK by Christopher Kimball that somehow ended up in my loft's storage area. I discovered a written note I composed inside the front cover addressed to an ex-wife. It was apparently a Mother’s Day gift that she obviously did not keep. Hey, that beats the vacuum I bought the first wife for her birthday the year we were married. She broke into tears when I presented it to her. Jeez, tough crowd.

I began leafing through the Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook and came to a section on baked beans. My goodness, Kimball has offered so many ways to prepare and doctor up his basic recipe.

My family had an Aunt Betty that made a favorite baked bean recipe that I became interested in producing while working in the kitchen at my fraternity house in college. I thought my brothers would love it as a side dish. I remember posting the recipe from a newspaper article on our house's cork bulletin board. It was my first exposure to the ingredient, molasses, and what a distinctive flavor it added. Interestingly, Kimball also loves molasses.

Betty's beans were quite good, but adding chopped tomatoes and vinegar and herbs and spices in the baking process moves the lowly navy beans into a category deserving of many superlatives.

I encourage you to be brave and break away from your family's tried and true baked bean recipe with this recipe, you won't be disappointed.

Kimball’s Master Recipe for Baked Beans

1 lb. (2 cups) navy beans

1 tablespoon ground cumin seeds

5 strips smoked bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large onion, diced

1 carrot, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ cup molasses

1 cup chopped tomatoes

1 tablespoon dry mustard

5 cups water or chicken stock

2 bay leaves

4 sprigs thyme

¼ cup cider vinegar

Salt and ground pepper


  1. Put beans in plenty of water to cover and soak overnight. Drain and rinse thoroughly with cold water.

  2. Heat oven to 300 degrees

  3. Cook the bacon for 5 minutes in a large ovenproof pan or Dutch oven. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat; add to the bacon pieces olive oil, onion, carrot, and garlic and sauté for five minutes. Add remaining ingredients except the vinegar, salt, and pepper and stir gently to mix. Cover and bake 3 hours. Add vinegar, salt and pepper and stir gently to mix.

  4. Replace cover and bake another two hours. Check liquid. When cooked remove thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Add salt and pepper as needed.

Vermont Baked Beans

Follow the above master recipe but substitute maple syrup for molasses; add ¼ teaspoon ground cloves, ½ teaspoon ground cardamom, and ½ teaspoon ground allspice. Here’s to Vermont and Michigan!

These sophisticated baked bean recipes go great with a grilled hamburger, or pulled pork on a toasted sesame bun accompanied by homemade cold slaw and refrigerator dill pickle spears. Yum.

Bon Appetit

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