Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Crafting baked beans September 15, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Baked beans prepared for Bean Hole Days in Pequot Lakes. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

THUMBING THROUGH THE PAGES of the July/August issue of Country Living magazine recently, I found a recipe, “Slow Cooker Baked Beans,” which inspired me to try making baked beans from scratch.

I read through the list of ingredients noting that all were common and in-stock in my kitchen, except for the pound of dried navy beans. Too often I find magazine recipes calling for ingredients I don’t have or can’t find locally. But this recipe was a go. So I bought a bag of beans and determined I could do this.

But…just to assure I would do everything correctly, I texted my sister-in-law Annette, who makes incredible baked beans, to ask a few questions. Do I soak the beans overnight on the counter or in the fridge? Covered or uncovered?

Perhaps she chuckled at my basic bean questions. Maybe not. Whatever, I appreciated her advice to soak the beans in a covered container. In case a fly or ? gets in the house, she wrote. It was the question mark which concerned me given I live in an old house with many access points for mice. Once upon a time (true story) I found a dead mouse floating in a water-filled crockpot. I’d left the uncovered pot soaking overnight in the kitchen sink. I took her warning seriously and covered the beans before I left them to soak overnight in a kettle on the counter.

Aside from that advice, Annette shared one more important tip which, had I not followed, likely would have resulted in a baked bean failure: Beans will NOT soften any further once anything sweet is put in such as brown sugar, catsup or molasses. What? The recipe did not include that important detail. But I believed my sister-in-law, an expert in crafting baked beans. I cooked the beans for 45 minutes to their desired softness before dumping them into the crockpot along with the three afore-mentioned sweet ingredients, bacon, spices, onion and water.

Volunteers guide a kettle of baked beans lifted from a pit at Bean Hole Days. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

I should have remembered also that the good folks of Pequot Lakes, who have since 1938 prepared massive kettles of baked beans for the community’s annual Bean Hole Days, partially pre-cook the soaked navy beans with propane. The oversized pots of beans are then lowered into a pit to cook overnight over wood coals. And I gotta tell you, the deliciousness of those bacon-laced beans in a secret, special sauce ranks right up there with those my sister-in-law makes.

How did mine turn out? Well. They were tasty and flavorful. And not at all soupy. I worried initially that I might be eating bean soup given the ratio of beans to liquid in the crockpot. But, during the slow, all-day cooking, that problem remedied itself.

Will I make these beans again? Absolutely. I’ve noted Annette’s tips in the margin of the printed recipe because, even though I think I will remember, I likely won’t. And who wants a baked bean bomb? Not me.


TELL ME: Have you ever made baked beans from scratch? If yes, I’d like to hear about your bean-baking experiences/tips/recipes.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


12 Responses to “Crafting baked beans”

  1. Washe Koda Says:

    😎 ‘ℂ𝕠𝕠𝕝 𝔹𝕖𝕒𝕟𝕤’ 🙂 Once, most every, month for the past 25 yrs I’ve soaked mine for 12 hrs, drain and rinse (gets rid of the ‘gas’) then cook in the crock pot for 12 hrs before adding anything ❗️ I freeze ½ the batch after adding & simmering to thicken what ever fixings I have in stock 😉 🥘

  2. Yum, my step dad makes great backed beans but he uses beans from a can plus the other ingredients. His recipe is in his head. A little of this and that

  3. Valerie Says:

    The baked beans sound yummy! I don’t make them from “scratch”.

  4. You had me chuckling because I remember one Family Reunion turning into a baked bean competition due to all the baked beans brought for the potluck. Thank goodness for a grocery store near by to fill in the gaps and next year resulted in a sign up sheet – ha! I do know you have to cook the beans before adding the other ingredients. Just like cooking pumpkin seeds before seasoning and roasting in the oven. Never get soft and that is not good for consumption. Sounds like you enjoyed your cooking experiment. Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  5. Jackie Hemmer Says:

    Your beans look amazing Audrey and a step more “from scratch” than mine. I found this recipe last year and have mad it for many gatherings. We love these beans. I modify by using 1/2 of the Brown sugar and honey.

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