Today is Vermont’s annual Town Meeting Day, where tradition is for each town to hold a public meeting for neighbors to gather and discuss and vote on issues of importance to the community. Over the years, Town Meetings have evolved to accommodate changing lifestyles, but the purpose remains the same.
The meeting can be a lengthy process, so it’s also become tradition for communities to hold potluck dinners as part of the process. Differences can be resolved more quickly when the work of the town’s best cooks is ready to be served!
Potluck Traditions at Town Meeting
You can always count on a pot of homemade baked beans to be among the dishes served at the Town Meeting potluck. The hearty, savory baked beans are a favorite among many. Our recipe is the perfect blend of sweet and spicy, with real bacon, molasses and maple syrup, along with a bit of Tabasco to give it a kick.
Soaking the beans then cooking them takes a bit of time, so plan on starting the soaking early in the day or the night before. Baked beans can be keep in the refrigerator for a week, or frozen and reheated.
Bake the beans for the final time in a Dutch oven or individual bean pots, adjusting the cooking time down to about forty minutes.
- 1 pound dried navy beans
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 cloves garlic, minced (1 teaspoon)
- 2 medium onions, chopped (2 cups)
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ pound thick-cut bacon (6 slices), cut into bite-size pieces
- 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
- ½ cup unsulphured molasses
- ½ cup real maple syrup
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup country-style Dijon mustard (regular yellow mustard will do, too)
- 1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
- Freshly ground black pepper
The Night Before
Place the beans in a 6-quart stockpot and add boiling water to cover by 2 inches. Add 1 tablespoon of the salt, stir, and leave to soak for 2 hours or overnight. Drain in a colander, then return the beans to the wiped-out stockpot.
The Day Of
Add water to cover by 2 inches and the remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Add ½ teaspoon of the garlic, 1 cup of the onion and the bay leaves. Simmer over low heat, slightly covered for up to 1 hour, or until the beans are tender, but not falling apart and the water has been mostly absorbed. Remove from the heat. Drain the beans in a colander over a medium bowl, reserving any liquid in the bowl. Remove the bay leaves.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F and position a rack in the center.
In a cast-iron Dutch oven or large pot, cook the bacon over medium-low heat until most of the fat has rendered but the bacon is not yet crisp, about 15 minutes.
Add the remaining 1 cup chopped onion and ½ teaspoon garlic and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Then add the brown sugar, molasses, vinegar, mustard, and Tabasco. Stir in the cooked beans, a good grinding of pepper and just enough of the reserved bean liquid, up to 1 cup, to make a slightly soupy mixture.
Cover and bake for 1 hour, or until the beans are thick and look dark and glazed. Check at the 45-minute mark to see if they need more liquid, and stir in ½ cup of the bean liquid or water, if needed. Taste and adjust the seasonings. After an hour, taste, and if the beans aren’t completely soft, return them to the oven and bake for up to 30 minutes more, until soft. Remove from the oven and keep covered until ready to serve.
Serves 6 as a main course, 12 as a side dish
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