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Boston Baked Beans

by Berkeley Wellness  

Massachusetts settlers adopted the Indian custom of slow-cooking beans with bits of meat (venison) and maple syrup, but changed the meat to salt pork and the sweetener to molasses. This dish eventually came to be called Boston Baked Beans, earning Boston the name “Bean Town.” Our version uses lean turkey bacon in place of the salt pork, and supplements the molasses with maple syrup.

Timing alert: The beans bake for 2 hours. And cooking beans from scratch will add several more hours (plus soaking). For more on cooking and soaking (or not soaking) beans, see our tips directly below the recipe.


  • 1 can (14½ ounces) crushed tomatoes
  • ¾ cup water
  • 3 tablespoons molasses
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cups cooked white beans (see below), such as Great Northern, navy, or cannellini, or 2 cans (19 ounces each) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 4 slices turkey bacon, chopped (2 ounces)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped


1. Preheat the oven to 250°F. In a small Dutch oven (1½ quarts), stir together the tomatoes, water, molasses, maple syrup, vinegar, dry mustard, salt, pepper, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute.

2. Stir in the beans, bacon, and onion. Cover and bake for 2 hours or until the beans are richly flavored and well coated. Remove the bay leaf before serving. Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition per serving: 240 calories, 3g total fat (1g saturated), 8mg cholesterol, 7g dietary fiber, 43g carbohydrate, 12g protein, 420mg sodium.

A good source of: fiber, folate, magnesium, potassium, vitamin B6.

How to Cook Beans

Beans are cooked in water until tender, but you should adjust the cooking time to the final use you have planned. For instance, for salads, cook the beans until just done (firm but not mushy). For purees, cook them until they are very soft. And for recipes where the beans will continue to cook, such as soups or casseroles (see Boston Baked Beans, above), slightly undercook the beans.

To soak or not soak

There are several schools of thought on presoaking beans before you cook them. Most people will tell you that the reason for soaking them first is that it cuts down on the cooking time. The fact of the matter is that it saves only about 45 minutes (not much when you’re already committed to 1 to 2 hours anyway). The other reason put forth for presoaking beans is their oligosaccharides, carbohydrates responsible for causing unwanted gas in the bean consumer. Some research suggests that presoaking beans, and then discarding the soaking water before cooking them, will get rid of some of the oligosaccharides.

Soaking methods

You can quick-soak beans in an hour, or soak them for 8 hours or overnight (in the refrigerator). For either method, place the beans in a large pot (they will double in size during soaking) and add enough water to cover: about 10 cups of water per pound of beans, or two to three times the beans’ volume in water. For quick-soaking, bring the water to a boil and cook at a boil for 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let stand, covered, for 1 hour. For long soaking, let the beans stand in cold water at room temperature for no longer than 8 hours. For longer than 8 hours, or in warm weather, soak the beans in the refrigerator; otherwise they will begin to ferment.

How to cook

With either soaking method, pour off the soaking water. Then add fresh water (or broth) to cover the beans by about 2 inches. Bring the liquid slowly to a boil, skimming off the scum that rises to the surface. When the liquid boils, reduce the heat, partially cover the pot, and simmer until the beans are tender. Stir occasionally, and add more water, if necessary. The beans are done when they can be easily pierced with the tip of a knife.

Cooking times

The amount of time it takes to cook beans varies with the size, density, and age of the bean. Small beans, such as adzuki, take 30 to 40 minutes to cook (after soaking). Medium-size beans (the bulk of the bean family), such as black beans and kidney beans, take 1½ to 2 hours. Older beans (of any size) will take longer.