July is baked beans month! This news fills my heart with joy, as I love baked beans. As a Brit they are part of my weekend breakfasting tradition, alongside sausages, bacon and eggs. Always Heinz baked beans, of course, and always with a hearty dash of Worcestershire sauce and sometimes a little chopped onion and chili.
But I’m aware that across the Atlantic, baked beans are a very different beast. Traditionally eaten in the evenings I believe, after slow cooking all day in a bean pot. Oh, how I would love a bean pot! I could have my American style beans, laced with molasses and pork, cooking away overnight on Saturday so I could scoff them all up on Sunday morning.
Baked beans were a definite favorite of the movie crowd in Hollywood’s golden era. Bette Davis absolutely loved them, and we shared her recipe for some in an earlier edition of Eat Drink Films. Bette was a proud New Englander, and she liked to serve her Boston Baked Beans at intimate Sunday night supper parties. She always accompanied the beans in traditional style, with brown bread and a fresh salad served in individual bowls.
I’m guessing that most folk would acknowledge that New England lays the greatest claim to having invented baked beans? Recipes for the same abound on the internet, and in the Silver Screen Suppers collection of film star recipes there is a Vincent Price Boston Baked Beans recipe, as well as Boston Baked Beans a la Jimmy Fidler and Neil Hamilton’s Boston Baked Beans. Not city specific, Ann Dvorak proposed a recipe for New England Baked Beans, and some from the Hollywood colony proposed other regional variations. Director John Ford’s Baked Maine Beans were to be cooked for 24 hours, and Elsie Janis, born in Columbus, favoured Ohio Baked Beans. She gave her recipe to the compilers of Fashions in Food in Beverly Hills cookbook, published in 1929, and it follows. I’m assuming that she would have soaked her beans overnight beforehand.
Elsie Janis’ Ohio Baked Beans
- One pint small white beans
- 3 pounds pork belly, along with the tenderloin
Wash beans in warm water, place in kettle for cooking. Boil one-half hour alone. Wash the pork and place it in with the beans. Boil hard, with salt and pepper to taste, one-half hour or until all seems a little tender.
Place in baking pan, meat in the center, beans all around meat. Two tablespoons of half butter and half lard dropped around over the beans. Three tablespoons of sugar carefully sprinkled over beans and meat, then sift a little flour over meat, water enough to cover beans, place in oven, dipping liquor over beans often.
Bake until brown and done.
For something a little different, with a little more guidance around cooking times and temperature, Corinne Griffith offered this recipe involving booze. This featured in Corinne’s excellent cookbook entitled Eggs I Have Known.
Corinne Griffith’s Beans Baked in Wine
6 x 1 lb 2 oz cans of baked beans
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- ½ cup molasses
- 1 onion
- Brown sugar
- ½ lb salt pork
- 5 teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 2/3 cup red wine
Add salt, mustard, pepper, red wine and molasses to beans. Mix and pour into bean pot with whole onion in bottom. Cut salt pork (or bacon) in thick slices and add to beans. Cover with brown sugar. Place lid on pot. Bake in very slow oven (250 degrees F / 120 degrees C) about 6 hours without stirring. Add more red wine if necessary. Uncover last half hour to brown.
Of this dish, Corinne says: “This is really the last word for buffets. Serve with a huge bowl of green salad, a platter of different cheeses, crackers and go to town on your dessert.”
Another variation on the theme is supplied courtesy of Josh White. He proposed a recipe for French Baked Beans to Paul Denis for his Celebrity Cook Book , published in 1952. Josh was most famous for singing the saddest song about food ever, “One Meat Ball.” Josh didn’t specify in his recipe how much bacon he used, so that’s up to individual taste. He does suggest using goose instead of the spare ribs though, which is a bit of a contrast to only being able to afford one meat ball.
Josh White’s French Baked Beans
2 lbs navy or small limas
- 1/8 lb butter
- 2 lbs spare ribs
- ½ teaspoon ginger
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 medium can whole tomatoes
- 18 cloves garlic
- 2 sliced onions
- ¼ teaspoon dry mustard
Soak beans overnight. Change Water. Parboil. In large bean pot, place 2 pounds spare ribs, cut in small pieces, cover with beans, sliced onions, mustard, ginger, garlic, tomatoes and enough water from beans to cover.
Bake in slowest oven until the beans are tender. Add bacon, take cover from pot and allow to brown thoroughly.
The beans must always be moist—add bean water if necessary to keep constantly moist.
Enjoy baked bean month, and enjoy your stardust sprinkled beans!
Jenny Hammerton is a film archivist with a nosey parker interest in what the stars of Hollywood Golden era liked to eat and drink. She’s been scribbling away about film star recipes for around eight years at Silver Screen Suppers and her bulging collection of film star favorites now numbers over 5,500. When not cooking and writing, Jenny works with the British Movietone newsreel collection for the AP Archive in London, and DJs on a wind-up gramophone with The Shellac Sisters. You can read about and buy her new book Cooking with Joan Crawford here.