Real Maine Baked Beans


Yellow eyes, Jacobs Cattle, Soldier, or Great Northern beans slowly baked with a chunk of salt pork; a little—not too much—molasses and sugar, dried mustard, an onion and enough liquid to keep them just barely covered is how Mainers make baked beans. It is a time honored combination, and we may find Mainers a tad dogmatic about it. How do I know?

About three or so years ago, I asked here in this column for baked bean recipes. They flooded in. I had heaps of them, veritable snow drifts of recipes. I was so overwhelmed that I crammed them into a file and cowered at my desk, simply not brave enough to tackle them all. Finally, earlier this winter, I opened the file and waded in. I dearly wish I could mention all the names of you who sent along recipes, along with your pieces of advice, but there is not enough room for them all. You know who you are, I hope. The recipe below is a distillation of your wisdom.

First, let’s just say that Yellow Eyes won the most votes, if you will, for the best bean to use. In Maine, those come from State of Maine Beans in a two pound bag at most grocery stores. There were a smattering of Jacobs Cattle, Soldier Beans, Great Northerns, and a few will favor Marafax. A couple mentioned pea beans, but for the most part, Mainers like big beans.

Virtually all the beans called for molasses, in varying amounts in proportion to the beans, some very sweet with, say, half a cup to two cups of dried beans, others a half cup to two pounds of beans. Some called for added sugar. Just about everyone called for an onion and dry mustard, two teaspoons of which was, oddly enough, the most common quantity called for despite the amount of beans. Most recipes required salt pork, though there were a handful of vegetarian beans which used cooking oil.

So many of you mentioned bringing beans to pot lucks, family gatherings, church suppers, and told me how you have made baked beans for decades. Despite the fact that not many of us like leaving the oven on for hours (even at 250 or 300), very few of you opted for a slow-cooker which after all, is not truly baking them, but rather simmering them for hours. I usually wait until the outdoor temperature is going to dip into the teens or lower to bake beans which I do in my wood-burning cook stove, where without much effort the temperature stays at about 250 as long as I keep it stoked for warmth in the kitchen.

I am blessed with two bean pots, both with good lids. A smaller one holds one pound of beans very nicely, and a larger one is suitable for two pounds plus a little. That larger pot came from Owls Head, and I bought it at an antique shop when I was fourteen and on a family vacation to Maine. I have no idea why I wanted that pot. I certainly did not bake beans when I was that age, nor did I have an inkling that I would come to live in Maine nearly 20 years hence. The shop owner told me that an old lady used to bring that pot full of beans to suppers in town. I wish I knew who she was. I love and honor her pot.

The Owls Head bean pot tucked into the back corner of the wood stove oven.

The Owls Head bean pot tucked into the back corner of the wood stove oven.

Here then is the recipe for baked beans. Two pounds of beans produces about a gallon baked. I end up spooning some into quart containers to freeze for another day as home-made fast food. Don’t forget the brown bread, the ham or hot dogs, and some pickles.

Looking for….Blueberry Bangbelly. From Deb, by  email, came this question: “My husband has mentioned often about a recipe his grandmother, from ‘The County”, used to make that was called Blueberry Bangbelly.”  Deb reports that she has explored family recipes, local versions, even checked out Brownie Schrumpf for this recipe which sounds a lot like a cobbler, or slump. Nothing quite matches what her husband remembers “as a biscuit type crust with blueberry filling baked in an oblong pan, a.k.a. “Blueberry Bangbelly”! We’d love to hear from you if you have a recipe.

Real Maine Baked Beans
  • 2 pounds of Yellow Eye (or other large dried) beans
  • ½ pound salt pork
  • ½ cup molasses
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 medium onion
  1. Soak the beans overnight in water enough to cover generously.
  2. Next day, boil the beans until the skins peel back when you blow upon a spoonful.
  3. Preheat an oven to 250 (to bake for eight hours) or 300 (to bake for six hours).
  4. Put the beans together with the salt pork, molasses, sugar, mustard, salt and pepper and onion in a bean pot and add enough water to barely cover the beans.
  5. Put the pot into the oven and bake for six to eight hours, checking from time to time and adding water if beans on top look dry.
  6. Remove the lid for the last hour or so.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.