This is a project in that you have to soak the beans overnight the night before and then they cook in a low oven for 8 hours or so. But after they get going the smell in the kitchen is worth it. And I recommend using the salt pork because that is the best part when you are eating the beans and it also gives the beans a much glossier appearance and texture.
If you want to be very traditional, serve it with Boston Brown Bread which actually comes in a can and can be heated in a saucepan of warm water. But be sure to open the can first otherwise you will have brown bread all over the kitchen when the can explodes. We also used to have it with scored hot dogs pan fried in butter. And that was Saturday night dinner. With ketchup on the beans and mustard on the hot dogs that was a real treat.
A Freshly Baked Pot of Boston Baked Beans
1. Rinse beans and pick through to make sure they are clean. Soak beans overnight in a non-reactive pot or bowl on the countertop in about 12 cups of water mixed with the 1 tablespoons of salt. The salt will help to soften the skins on the beans so they cook better.
Bag of Navy Pea Beans
Raw Beans Soaked Overnight
2. In a pot large enough to hold the beans, boil 4 quarts of water with 1 t baking soda. Drain the beans and add to the pot once water is boiling. When it returns to a boil, continue to cook for 18 minutes. The beans will develop a foam so keep a close eye on the pot as this can boil over. The foam won't hurt anything but you can skim it if you want. The beans should be tender but do not overcook. When you blow on the beans the skin should peal back easily. Once done, drain the beans in a colander and rinse lightly.
Boil the Beans at a Slow Boil
Boiling Beans with Foam on Top
Blowing on the Beans Will Cause the Peels to Split Slightly
3. While the beans are boiling, add molasses, brown sugar, ginger, mustard, salt, pepper and cayenne to a bowl and mix. Boil 3 cups water to be ready when the beans are done.
Add Molasses, Brown Sugar and Spices to a Mixing Bowl
Mix the Molasses, Brown Sugar and Spices
4. If you are using salt pork, add 1 piece of the salt pork to the bottom of the bean pot. Add 1/2 the the beans and then add another piece of the salt pork. Add the remaining beans. If you are not using the salt pork just add the beans to the pot. Pour the ingredients from the bowl over the beans in the bean pot. Rinse the bowl with a little of the boiling water to get all the good stuff and add to the beans. Add enough boiling water to just cover beans and if you are using the salt pork, top with the remaining piece of salt pork.The water should just cover the beans, not drown them. You can always add more water if necessary but too much water can be a problem.
Add Beans and a Piece of Salt Pork
Pour the Molasses Mixture Over the Beans
5. Cover the bean pot and place in a cold oven. Bake, covered at 250° F for 8 hours, adding boiling water from time to time so beans do not become dry. Again, add water in small amounts until it just becomes visible and do not add water in the last 1 1/2 hours of cooking.
6. Check the beans for moisture. If they are too moist you can uncover and continue to cook for 30 or so more minutes. This is not an exact science so do it to your liking.