Memere was quite the French Canadian chef.
From her tiny little kitchen, she produced countless warm graham cracker pies. Fluffy banana cream pies that made your tastebuds melt—absolutely melt. Deep, chocolatey fudge that made you close your eyes and dream only in chocolate.
It’s funny, because despite all of those things, whenever I think of Memere’s kitchen, I think of baked beans.
Memere and I had a lot of similar tastes when it came to food. One of them being that we both loved baked beans. Especially when smeered over puffy white pancakes.
(I always liked the fact that Memere would serve me pancakes and beans for breakfast. I loved that this was totally normal. Just your typical, standard ol’ breakfast fare.)
It was in February (or March?) of 2010 that I set out to make Memere a batch of beans. We were both sitting in her living room, watching Food Network, and discussing the seriousness of making the perfect batch of beans.
“You won’t put bacon in there, right? I don’t want bacon in my beans.” Memere would say this with such a disgusted look on her face, that I knew this was a very critical step. I scribbled it down on my notepad.
I’m pretty sure the menfolk would have liked the addition. The bacon, I mean. And I’m pretty sure that many baked bean connoisseurs and baked bean snobs (because I know they’re out there) would have thrown in some sort of pork or rind or bacon.
But I knew better than to argue with Memere. I just listened carefully to her instructions. I took notes: No bacon. Lots of molasses. A long, slow bake.
It was but an hour into preparing the beans, when I knew immediately that I must have forgotten something. Something important. The beans were done—completely finished!
I thought this was absolutely great. Memere sounded totally worried. “I don’t know,” she said. “Baked beans should take at least a couple of hours.”
After a quick, Memere-to-me, step by step discussion, I realized what I had done. The stovetop heat had been too high. The beans had become too soft. The flavors never even stood a chance of being able to meld and mix and mingle. They were, in a word, bland.
It was back to the drawing board. This time with further, more specific instructions from Memere.
As an aside, baking beans is a little like baking bread. You need a lot of patience. This isn’t always (ever?) easy.
The second time around, however, the results were baked bean perfection. The beans remained firm but tender. The molasses really shined through. The ingredients were baked together in a long, dreamy process.
And there was no bacon in sight.
I served us bowls of beans for lunch. Memere made us a loaf of her homemade bread and served me a thick slice covered in butter. After a couple of silent bites in, Memere approved with a bright smile and a sharp nod. And then we went on to discuss the serious matters of fashion, food, and Rachael Ray.
And that is why I always think of baked beans, whenever I think of Memere’s kitchen.
Boston Baked Beans
Serves about 4-5 main entrees
These beans are delicious a main entree, when served with a side salad and a whole grain cornbread. Or, try serving on the side of your favorite meal (poultry or tofu come to mind.) Better yet, serve over a plate of warm, puffy pancakes and eat them for breakfast. They freeze well and can be stored in single serve containers, and brought to work when you need a quick lunch.
(p.s. They’re also the perfection addition to a Super Bowl Buffet!)
If you like your beans with a kick, add some hot sauce to the sauce mixture. Enjoy!
- 2 c. navy beans
1-2 onions, finely diced
3 Tbsp. blackstrap molasses
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/2 c. ketchup
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
Soak beans overnight in cold water. The next day, bring beans to a boil in the same water. Immediately bring heat to low and cook for approximately 1 to 2 hrs. Drain and reserve liquid.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Arrange the beans in a 2 quart bean pot or casserole dish and top with onions.
In a saucepan, combine rest of ingredients, onions through brown sugar. Add hot sauce if desired. Bring mixture to a bowl and pour over beans. Pour in just enough of reserved bean water to cover the beans. Stir gently with rubber spatula and cover dish with lid or aluminum foil.
Bake for 3 to 4 hrs in preheated oven. Stir at least every hour.
Question: Who or what are the cooking inspirations in your life? Bon Appetit magazine, Memere, Julia Childs (because she never cried over a few mistakes!) and Mollie Katzen.