Authentic Boston Baked Beans

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Authentic Boston baked beans |


Boston baked beans are a delicious old-fashioned New England tradition, but most store-bought baked beans today are full of all sorts of questionable ingredients. Instead of store bought beans, I wanted to find a truly authentic recipe that used only real, natural ingredients that I could make myself at home.

The recipe I found came from the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer (published in 1896). This is the description of the recipe (or receipt if you want to use the period term) as printed in her book:

“Pick over one quart pea beans, cover with cold water, and soak over night. In morning, drain, cover with fresh water, heat slowly (keeping water below boiling point), and cook until skins will burst . . .

Drain beans, throwing bean-water out of doors, not in sink. Scald rind of one-half pound fat salt pork, scrape, remove one-fourth inch slice and put in bottom of bean-pot. Cut through rind of remaining pork every one-half inch, making cuts one inch deep. Put beans in pot and bury pork in beans, leaving rind exposed. Mix one tablespoon salt, one tablespoon molasses, and three tablespoons sugar; add one cup boiling water, and pour over beans; then add enough more boiling water to cover beans.

Cover bean-pot, put in oven, and bake slowly six or eight hours, uncovering the last hour of cooking, that rind may become brown and crisp. Add water as needed. Many feel sure that by adding with seasonings one-half tablespoon mustard, the beans are more easily digested. If pork mixed with lean is preferred, use less salt.”

This recipe is quite long, but it actually gives a pretty good description of the ingredients and how to prepare and cook the beans, which is a lot more than most old-fashioned recipes will tell you! This recipe would make a lot of beans, though, so unless you’re making beans to feed a crowd, you might want to cut it in half like I did.

Here is my modern adaptation of the recipe:

Authentic Boston Baked Beans Recipe:


  • 2 cups Navy beans (Pea beans and Navy beans are the same; they’re also sometimes called Boston beans or Yankee beans)
  • 1/2 cup salt pork, chopped *
  • 1/2 Tbs sea salt or real salt
  • 1 heaping Tbs molasses (I like to use organic blackstrap molasses)
  • 1 1/2 Tbs whole cane sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground mustard
  • 1/2 cup boiling filtered water plus enough to cover the beans (about 2 cups).

* (I cut up my salt pork in small pieces so it could be eaten with the beans instead of leaving it as one large piece to take out, and I simmered the salt pork first in a saucepan until it was cooked through.)


1) The night before you plan to cook your beans, take your two cups of beans and put them in a saucepan or pot (after picking through them first quickly just to make sure there aren’t any broken or shriveled ones). Pour enough water into the pan to cover the beans and let them sit over night.

2) In the morning, strain the beans and discard the water. (Since it was freezing cold outside, I ignored Fannie’s instruction about throwing the water outside instead of in the sink. I’m not quite sure why she said that anyways…)

3) Give the beans a quick rinse in the strainer and then put them back in the saucepan with some fresh water. Let the beans simmer in the water for about 40 minutes.

(Note: It’s important not to let them go above a simmer or they could end up getting mushy.)

Then strain the beans again and put the beans in whatever pot you plan to bake them in. If you want them to look truly authentic and old-fashioned, you can use a baked bean pot or if you don’t have one those, you could use a large casserole dish.

4) Put the pork, salt, molasses, sugar, and mustard in with the beans and mix them all together. Pour the 1/2 cup of boiling water over the beans and then add enough cool water to make sure the beans are covered (about 2 more cups). Then cover the pot and put it in the oven to bake.

5) Since old-fashioned stoves didn’t allow cooks to have the same control over temperature that our modern ovens do, this recipe didn’t specify a cooking temperature, but since the recipe said to bake them slowly, that translates to a lower oven temperature. I baked mine at 325 degrees for the first few hours and then turned the oven down to 280 degrees.

6) Check the beans every once in a while to make sure they aren’t drying out, and add a bit more water if necessary. Take the cover off the pot for the last hour of cooking.

The recipe said to cook the beans for 6-8 hours, but my beans were actually done after about 5 hours, so it’s a good idea to check them every hour or so to make sure they aren’t over-cooking.

Recipe Analysis: This recipe makes about four cups of cooked beans. Even though the recipe instructions might seem a bit long and involved at first, these beans were actually really easy to make.

I was surprised by the fact that the color of the cooked beans was lighter than most canned baked beans I’ve had (maybe because there are no artificial colors in these homemade ones?), but I thought that they tasted as good or even better than store-bought beans. And the fun of trying an authentic Boston Baked Beans recipe is definitely something you can’t get from store-bought beans in a can!

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Authentic Boston baked beans recipe |



Other Baked Bean Recipes to Try:

Slow Cooker Baked Beans by 100 Days of Real Food

Luau Baked Beans with Pineapple by Oh Lardy

Baked Beans – Tossing the Can by Jen and Joey Go Green


20 Responses to Authentic Boston Baked Beans

  1. I always make my own baked beans. They are never as dark as what comes in can.

    I was out of most of my ingredients yesterday, so I used an organic bbq sauce to stretch the ingredients.

  2. I use brown sugar in my baked beans. I make a bigger batch (2 lbs dry) and it calls for 4 tablespoons of brown sugar and 1/2 cup molasses (other ingredients are adjusted as well). 8 hours of baking at 275 degrees results in great Boston Baked Beans that are brown and delicious.

  3. Yes, all of the above ingredients. I suppose any other additons would not make it traditional, but I do anyway. A half a cup of chopped onion, mustard powder, 1/2 a cup of maple syrup, AND if you want them dark and RICH, I add a tablespoon of instant coffee to the water you are adding to the beans before baking. Nows these are beans that are worth talking about. One more thing about the cooking temp. I put mine in the oven at night at 215 degrees. After an 8 or 10 hour cook, they are pretty well done. If not, I take the cover off for another hour or two at 275. The slower and lower the cook, the better.

  4. Keep in mind, when this was first written the indoor sinks had no pipes “none or very little inside pipes” were a whole lot different than now. You bucketed water in or out. That’s why they said to throw the bean water outside. My Grandma always did that even in her later years. if you didn’t you’d get clogs- especially with the fatty content of the salt pork (if you pre cooked it) and one have heck of a mess.

    FYI: I used to work at FF Candy factory in Norwalk Ohio, I remember these books in “our” store very well. 🙂

  5. This recipe for boston baked beans is horrible. I am from Massachusetts and remember my Mother and Grandmother always making boston baked beans on saturday night and this recipe is nothing like the recipe for original boston baked beans. Its tasteless for one thing and has no business calling it original because people from new england would be furious seeing this recipe

    • I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t like the recipe, but while I respect your right to have your own opinion, I disagree with you on the fact that this is not an original recipe. This recipe comes straight from a 19th century Boston Cooking School book, so it is an authentic Boston recipe from an antique cookbook. I’m sure there are many different variations of Boston baked beans recipes because every family had their own unique recipes that were passed down through the generations. And there isn’t really any such thing as the one “original” recipe because every old recipe is authentic in it’s own right. Everyone has their own preferences for taste and for how they like their baked beans to be cooked, but being from Massachusetts myself, I can attest to the fact that not all New Englanders would disapprove of this recipe.

    • I have been making BBB since the 1970’s and this is a genuine recipe,
      almost all my recipes are identical to this one.
      (inlcluding Fannie Farmer and Betty Crocker)
      Here it is from an authority on BBB
      Some people will sneak in a dash of ketchup which adds a slight tangy
      note.That can make a difference.
      Also, I truly believe that beans today are not the same as they were 30-40 years ago. Agriculture is changing.
      Thank you Lori. Nice site and enjoyed your photos.

      • Thank you for your input and for sharing that link. And I agree with you that beans have changed over the years, too. I guess the only way we could truly experience the same old fashioned taste as our ancestors would be to use heirloom varieties of beans as well.

      • I totally agree with the comment on the beans aren’t the same as they were in years past. I’ve been cooking various types of beans recipes for 50 years, and for some reason there are some that just will not even cook to where they’re even edible. I’ve had problems the last six or seven years with pinto beans, of all things. No matter what I do, how I cook them, probably 75% of the time they simply do not soften like they should! I’ve tried various methods of cooking them (which I never had to do before. I always used my tried and true stovetop method), I’ve tried putting in more water, less water; more cook time, less cook time; changing amounts of other ingredients, etc., and they still come out, some of them, as hard as rocks! Oh, well, I’ll just keep cooking them and pickin’ out the hard ones and eatin’ the softer ones. LOL 😉

  6. Thank you for sharing this recipe. It answered some questions for me! I have looked at a dozen or more recipes for Boston Baked Beans in the last couple of days and it’s really fun to get such an old one!

    I find the amount of beans to use to be confusing. Some say that 1 cup of dry beans = 2 cups cooked, others say 3 or more. I’m going with the smaller amount for my first run!

    One thing I noticed about this recipe is that it is noticeably low in molasses (whereas most baked bean recipes with molasses have a minimum of 1/3 cup, which it equivalent I think to about 5 TBL), which probably explained why the bean did not get very dark.

    • That’s really interesting about the molasses. I haven’t looked at many modern baked bean recipes, but I’m not surprised that they use more molasses now than they did in the past, especially since sugar and molasses were more expensive in earlier centuries. That would probably explain the difference in color too.

  7. I just discovered your recipe which I will definitely try! One reason why most older recipes didn’t contain a lot of detail is that girls grew up helping mom in the kitchen almost from when they could walk (we certainly did!) and so we knew what to do to cook the dish. The recipe was only to provide a guide to which ingredients and how much and, as you pointed out, those recipes changed from family to family, as well as from generation to generation as new ingredients became available or prices changed. One of the biggest things I’ve noticed is that most of the old recipes I have use no salt at all – with the addition of large amounts of fresh herbs and spices, they taste wonderful!

    • Yes, that’s so true about about the details in older recipes! Except for a few cookbooks that were geared toward teaching how to cook, the majority of older cookbooks that I’ve seen seem to assume that the person making the recipe already knows what they need to do. I’ve noticed that, too, about the lack of salt in some older recipes. I wonder if part of the reason for that might be because some foods like butter and meat were heavily salted to preserve them, so they would already have a salty flavor. At an 1830s living history museum near where I live, the guides explained that some of the foods that were preserved with salt or with a salty brine had to be soaked and rinsed to make them palatable because the salty flavor was so strong. So I would imagine that they wouldn’t need to add a whole lot of extra salt in those cases. It’s definitely interesting to learn more about the history of these older recipes!

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