My go-to baked bean dish for many years has been my Brilliant Baked Beans made with a variety of canned beans. And I love those beans.
But eventually, I started fiddling around with dried beans to recreate memories of New England-style baked beans I’d enjoyed when I lived in the area. I like those, too. Then I started to find fresh shelly beans and October beans at my local farmer's market and decided I could surely make a delicious Southern-style version for summer cookouts.
So now this is my favorite baked bean dish for summer, when I get fresh beans. In winter, I still make maple-syrup-rich beans from dried yellow-eyes, and the canned version when I want a large quantity quick. In short, yeah, I like baked beans.
The shelly beans that are sold around here are plump with a lovely burgundy speckled-surface. They are similar to borlotti or cranberry beans, which you may find at gourmet markets.
Southern baked shelly beans
1 pound fresh shelly beans
1/2 Vidalia onion
4 ounces salt pork (or bacon)
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup sorghum
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons bourbon (*optional)
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1. Soak the beans in cold water for 30 minutes. Scoop out any beans that float and discard. Use your hands to scoop the beans into a large pot. This way, any dirt and grit stays in the bowl. Pick over the beans and remove any discolored or shrunken beans
2. Cover the beans with fresh cold water by 2 inches. Peel the onion and cut in half vertically. If you leave the stem intact, just pull off any hairy bits, the onion will hold together better during cooking. Tuck the onion half, salt pork, garlic and bay leaves down into the beans. Bring to a boil, skim off any foam that rises, then reduce the heat to medium low. Cover the pot and simmer the beans for 45 minutes.
3. Mix the sorghum, brown sugar, vinegar, bourbon (if using), and mustard into a thick paste in a small bowl. Scrape the paste into the beans, stir gently to combine, cover the pot and simmer for another 2 hours.
4. Stir in salt to taste and cook the beans uncovered until the sauce is thick and reduced and the beans are tender.