A recipe for beans baked barbecue style gains a devoted fan base
No picnic or barbecue is complete without a pot of slightly sweet, but yet a little spicy, beans. In a pinch, I have been known to open a can of store bought beans and "doctor them up," but when I plan, I make my friend Sarah's recipe, and they are always a hit. Baked beans have been around for a long time and served as a staple for the Pilgrims from as early as 1622. Beans were soaked and cooked overnight and for the better part of a Sunday, in the household bean pot. Pilgrims traditionally spent most of the Sunday worshipping and would return home to a dinner of hot beans and a side of brown bread, a Boston area tradition that lasted into the early 1900s. As much as we Americans like beans, I was surprised to learn they may be even more popular in Great Britain. According to Business Insider, The Heinz factory in Wigan, England, is the largest baked bean factory in the world. The factory was opened in 1959 and currently produces more than 3 million cans each day. The beans are shipped from North America and rehydrated once they arrive at the factory. They are blended with a secret mixture of spices and tomato sauce. The ingredients are steamed inside of the can. More than 2.5 million cans of Heinz Beanz are sold every day in the UK, making it one of the most popular foods in the country. The British like to serve their "beanz" hot, ladled over freshly toasted bread for breakfast, often topped with an over-easy egg. A few years ago, my husband and I started helping with the grilling for concessions at our home high school football games. We always get there early only to find Dennis has already arrived with a slow cooker full of his wife, Sarah's, famous beans. It isn't long before other volunteers began to swarm the area, filling bowls with the steaming concoction of goodness from within the pot. Sweet, tangy, smoky, but more often "delicious" are words used by those lucky enough to get a bowl, to describe Sarah's beans, so of course, I had to learn more. Sarah says she has made a version of these beans for as long as she can remember. They started as a way to empty the refrigerator and pantry, earning them the name "Garbage Beans" from her family, but they were always happy to eat them. Sarah and I both agree good beans start with a cooked mixture of bacon and onions. Then Sarah adds a can of Bush's Beans to her bacon and onions. The process continues by adding other such beans as light and dark kidney, cannellini, butter, and even black beans to achieve a beautiful color balance. To add more flavor, she follows with Worcestershire or steak sauce, yellow mustard, and such seasonings as onion and garlic powder, along with some steak seasoning, all topped off with a generous portion of barbecue sauce. Stir it all up and set the slow cooker on low for several hours and try to resist the urge to eat them before they are done. Sarah is the first person to tell you her beans tend to taste different each time she makes them, as she doesn't typically measure her ingredients and uses what she has on hand, so feel free to get creative yourself. "Coming from a German background, you always made more than you thought you would need," said Sarah, and leftovers never go to waste. My own experience has proved this to be true, as my kids always ask to take any leftovers of Sarah's Beans home with them after a family dinner. The beans initially began attending football games as a side dish to Dennis' homemade fish fry he would make for volunteers and are now the perfect accompaniment to the famous barbecue pork chop sandwiches, or my personal favorite, a sliced hot dog mixed unto the beans, a treat Sarah's family calls Sunken Treasure. There is no excuse not to make, and eat Sarah's beans. If you don't have a slow cooker, cook them in a covered oven-safe pot in a 250-degree oven for 4 to 6 hours. If you want to make them vegan, omit the bacon and add a little liquid smoke or smoked salt. If you don't have all the different cans of beans, that is OK too, just use the ones you have. As Sarah says, the ingredients she uses are slightly different every time she makes them, but I can assure you, they are always delicious.
• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the 2011 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.