Meals that take hours to cook seldom take more than a few minutes of actual preparation time. Among the best-known and best-loved of these are corned beef and cabbage, stew and baked beans recipes. Long, slow simmering blends and enhances flavors that commercial products only wish they could imitate!
Cooking time for dry beans depends on where they were grown, and their age. The best will be beans that grew in your own garden, last summer, although properly stored dry legumes (peas, beans, and lentils) will keep for several years. They will cook faster and be more tender if soft water is used.
There are also differences between varieties. If you buy beans in a supermarket, you might be limited to the standard navy type, which is one of the toughest. But grow your own and you can have dozens of choices, such as Jacobs Cattle, cannelino, flageolet, yellow eye, borlotto, and many others. Proponents of slow food will appreciate the subtle differences of each variety for baked beans recipes.
Traditionally, dry beans are washed and cleaned, picking out small stones and stems commonly found in this “natural product of the earth,” as one commercial producer puts it, and then soaking in water to cover, overnight. (Remember that the beans will absorb a great deal of water as they soak.) Then bring to a slow boil in the soaking water, and simmer.
If you forget to plan ahead, the beans can be added to rapidly boiling water, slowly, so the water doesn’t stop boiling. Bring to a strong boil again, then lower the heat so they just simmer.
As a rule of thumb, for four servings use two cups of dry beans and one quart of water.
Baked Beans Recipe
2 cups dried beans
Add water to cover, if necessary, and bring to a boil, then lower the heat so they gently simmer. After about half an hour, place a few beans on a spoon and blow on them. If the skins burst, they are cooked.
Drain, reserving the water, and add:
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 lb. sliced or diced salt pork
2-3 tablespoons molasses or brown sugar or some of each
2-3 tablespoons catsup
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup of the reserved bean water (or tomato sauce)
Optional: 1 teaspoon curry powder; 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce; 1/2 cup diced carrots; dried or canned tomatoes
Place in a greased cast iron Dutch oven or baking dish. Bake, covered, at 250 degrees for 6-8 hours. If they become too dry add more bean water, ham stock, or tomato juice. Bake uncovered for the last 1/2 hour.
The long cooking time makes this baked beans recipe an ideal wintertime dish for simmering on top of the wood stove. Use a cast iron Dutch oven if at all possible, and if necessary to keep them from boiling, a trivet.
You may also add diced or sliced ham, pork hocks or chops, hot dogs or other sausages such as bologna or kielbasa.
This is also an excellent way to use (and disguise) that leftover food storage Spam you’ve been wondering what to do with. Slices can be placed on top of the beans when they’re about halfway through cooking, or mix in diced meat.
Stews not only require long, slow cooking: they are best when cooked a day in advance, which often means the leftovers will be better than the first meal. So make plenty! Leftovers can be frozen for those days when you want fast food.
Basically, stew is a mixture of meat (or fish) and vegetables, simmered in a broth. This leaves plenty of room for creativity or making use of what’s on hand—either leftovers or a surplus in the root cellar or freezer. This makes it ideal for homesteaders.
As evidence of its peasant gourmet roots, consider some of the variations: Hungarian goulash, blanquette de veau, West African beef stew, Belgian beef stew, Chinese red stews—and one that seems to be made to order for homesteaders—Kentucky burgoo.
While almost any stew can be made from whatever is on hand, burgoo raises this to an art form. Noted cookbook authors Rombauer and Becker call it a “thick, long-simmered potpourri, a catch-as-catch-can mixture of meats, fowl and garden gleanings—with squirrel thrown in, in some authentic local versions.” But they also note that it has an assortment of Old World forebears “as numerous and far-flung as the Gypsies.” In Spain it’s olla podrida; in Ireland it’s Mulligan stew.
In Kentucky it was made in huge amounts, in hog-butchering kettles, to feed hundreds of people who gathered for all-night socializing while the burgoo simmered over an open fire. Here’s one version of it that will feed a smaller crowd-about 10 to 12-or provide leftovers that can be frozen.
Note that this is ideally a seasonal dish for the peak of the gardening season. We include it here to emphasize the festival aspect of slow food. With today’s canned and frozen vegetables, it can be enjoyed anytime, but be sure to mark this recipe so you can try it with fresh, homegrown ingredients this summer. Learn how to make homemade biscuits for a full slow food meal.
3/4 lb. stewing beef, cubed
3/4 lb. pork shoulder, cubed
3-1/2 quarts water or stock
Bring to a boil in a heavy large pot. Reduce heat and simmer for about 1-1/2 hours. Then add:
(1) 3-1/2 lb. chicken, disjointed (Learn how to cut a whole chicken here.)
Again bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the meat falls off the bones: an hour or more.
Let cool so the meat can be removed from the bones. Discard the bones, return the meat to the pot, and bring to a boil. Then add:
2-1/2 cups ripe tomatoes, peeled and quartered
1 cup fresh lima beans
1/2 hot red pepper, diced
2 green peppers, diced
3/4 cup onions, diced
1 cup carrots, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
2 cups potatoes, diced
1 cup okra, diced
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Simmer over very low heat, stirring frequently as it thickens. After 45 minutes or more, add 2 cups corn, freshly cut from the cob. Simmer another 15 minutes, or until all the vegetables are done.
Serve this with salt rising bread or corn bread.
Corned Beef and Cabbage
Here’s one that’s more seasonal and is a tasty reward for the work of growing cabbage. This dish was designed to turn late-winter root cellar vegetables into a St. Patrick’s Day feast! Call it corned beef and cabbage or New England boiled dinner. By either name, it’s delicious.
Wash under running water
1 corned beef
Cover with boiling water and simmer. Figure on about one hour per pound, and in the last 30-45 minutes or so add:
3 parsnips, peeled and thickly sliced
6 carrots, scraped or peeled and thickly sliced
3 turnips, peeled and quartered
6 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
The corned beef can be removed from the pot at this point, cooled slightly, thinly sliced (diagonally across the grain) and returned to the pot to reheat.
In the last 10-15 minutes (do not overcook cabbage) add:
1 head cabbage, cut into wedges
As with most slow foods, leftovers can be refrigerated. Then, a day or two later, you can have delicious fast food, homestead-style, of course!
What are your favorite stew and baked beans recipes?
Originally published in Countryside March/April 2001 and regularly vetted for accuracy.