These are M.F.’s beans. They are BBQ beans that are far and away my favorite. I like BBQ beans but some are just swimming in sauce and you lose sight of the beans altogether. This recipe emphasizes the beans and the sauce is amazing, but there isn’t so much that it drowns out the beans. It is basically an easy sauce that you pour over beans and bake. Easy. Yes, there is bacon involved.
M.F. is Mary Frances Staring. She was my grandma’s brother’s wife and she is reported widely to be the most fun and darling and cute human to ever grace my mother’s side of the family. Back when people didn’t have 30,000,000,000,000 recipe websites and blogs and printers at their fingertips, they used to actually…you’re not going to believe this…write out recipes in longhand on index cards and give them to their family members and children. Some of these precious handwritten notes have survived in my family and I cherish them more than almost anything in my home. They are a direct link to people who I would have dearly loved to have known better. The cards represent the best comfort food that these people had to offer the world. They are smudged and fading and beautiful. This is a recipe that is lovingly relayed on one such card. The credit reads…”M.F.’s recipe to Wilma to Mamaw to Carol.” In other words, M.F. gave the recipe to Wilma. Wilma gave it to Mamaw. And Betty, I believe, wrote it down for Carol, my mom, for a recipe exchange wedding shower. Of course this was in a time and place much missed by souls like me when wedding colors were those such as yellow. And, wedding flowers were delights such as daisies. And people gifted brides with love-filled recipes and not with $500 Herend place settings.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t miss the bit where professors told students (my mom) that accounting really was not an appropriate major for a young woman (incidentally, she showed him where he could stick it). I like my very modern oven and my law degree and I love Herend. But I miss the tradition of recipe cards lovingly written and the transmission of family cooking wisdom, and the warm place that these thoughts came from as young couples went to stake their own claims in the world.
Yesterday a friend mentioned how nice it would be if I could ask my long deceased grandfather (a bakery superintendant) a specific question about baking bread and yeast choices and I lost my breath for a moment. I want an afternoon in the kitchen with him so much that the mere thought of it is making me tear up as I type. And, I’m sickened that when he was here I was always too young to know how fleeting time really is. You can answer questionnaires haughtily about how you would choose Jesus and Ghandi and Abraham Lincoln as dinner guests if you could host a dinner with historical figures. I want to have dinner with Papaw Virgil and my Grandma Katie, and every single precious bite of the dreaded green jell-o salad that it would entail.
Thank goodness for M.F. and Wilma and Mamaw for passing the wisdom down the line. Thank goodness for aunts like Betty who recognized the value of the wisdom along the line and wrote it down and saved it for the moment when I, and those in my generation, aged enough to discern the traditions that are to be cast aside and those that are to be held closely and cherished and written down and passed along.
If you want to do this the “hard” way, buy a small bag of “small white beans.”
Soak the beans in at least 6 cups of water for 24 hours and up to 48. Drain the water in which they were soaking and place the beans in a sauce pan. Fill the pan with water covering the beans by at least 2 inches. Allow the beans to cook at a low boil, covered, for about 2 hours, and perhaps longer. Apparently all kinds of factors affect how long it takes beans to cook, including the size of the beans and altitude. You will know if they are not done because they have sort of a dry firm bite to them when they are undercooked…and then one moment, they just become soft. So, “cook ‘em ‘til they’re done.” Drain the beans.
If you want to do it the easy(ier) way, buy 3 cans of Great Northern Beans or Navy beans or some other type of small white beans. Open them and drain and rinse them in a colander. I totally endorse the easy(ier) method. Having done both several times, I will choose the easy(ier) one every time now. I’m trying to feed a family here, not win a cook-off. When the cook-off comes around I’ll try the dried beans again.
While the beans are cooking in the saucepan (or draining in the colander), combine the following ingredients:
1 cup ketchup (M.F. says catsup, I say ketchup…)
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup molasses
2 teaspoons dry mustard
3 to 4 teaspoons of “thick” Lee & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce (I’m sure the other kind will work)
Salt and Pepper
¾ cup finely chopped onion (approximately)
3 serrano peppers, seeded and finely chopped (hatch or green bell pepper are OK too)
5 slices of bacon
Combine the ketchup, brown sugar, molasses, mustard, Worcestershire, pepper, salt, onion and peppers in a medium bowl or other container. Combine the canned or cooked beans with the sauce.
Pour the saucy beans into a baking dish. If I was trying to do a 9”x13” dish, I would probably double this recipe.
Put the casserole in the oven and cook for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Meanwhile, sauté the chopped bacon until it is about halfway done. Put the semi-cooked bacon onto to the beans (I don’t even drain it) and return it to the oven. Cook for an additional 20 minutes or until the beans are bubbly and hot and the bacon is thoroughly cooked. I precook the bacon a bit because if I don’t the beans are bubbly and hot at the end of the cooking time but the bacon still looks, um, ugly and whitish. You can put the raw bacon on the casserole initially, but you might have to blast it with the broiler at the end, but please be very vigilant if you choose this method. These beans are one algebra question or one bathroom trip away from ruin if you leave them unattended while the broil setting is on.
Remove them from the oven and let them rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.
The very best thing to serve with M.F.’s beans is Kuby’s Jalapeno Cheese sausages. I was talking to Karl Kuby, Jr. the other day and asked him which of their vast array of sausages was best with BBQ sauce and to my surprise he said the Jalapeno Cheese. I have been eating these for years with the typical mustard and sauerkraut, but I tried it with my Papaw’s BBQ sauce and I was blown away. It is a really wonderful meal and an easy one, as well. If you have never gone to Kuby’s to buy sausage or their other meats, well, you are missing out.
****A normal person might be able to stretch this across a 9” x 13” pan as it is written. I don’t cook like that. When I fill a casserole dish it is generally brimming. People often comment about how my mother and I cook too much food. If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a million times, “What are you cooking for, an Army???” Be warned, if I hear it one more time in my life I might actually pop that offender in the nose. My people and I eat big, get over it. And the funny thing is, there is rarely much left in the pan after these encounters, so I say plan for an Army, always allow plenty of cooking time, and you might have leftovers (planovers) as a worst case scenario. I hate it when I approach a buffet at someone’s home and have to mentally calculate how little I need to consume so that there will be plenty to go around.
****M.F.’s original recipe called for rinsing cans of Pork ‘n Beans to use as the base for this recipe and I chose to start from a clean slate with plain white beans. The sauce is so great it deserves a fresh start.