Monday, April 21, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Ranch-Style Baked Beans

It seems every old cowboy movie had a camp cook serving up a mess of baked beans. I can see John Wayne eating them now...

So, it's fitting that when I asked rancher Art Unsworth for a recipe from the annual Murraydale Stampede Picnic, he sent a recipe for baked beans. The Murraydale Stampede Picnic, held south of Maple Creek in July, started in 1909 and has been held every year since. Three generations of the Unsworth family have been involved. Their story is not uncommon for pioneers – colourful, tragic and successful.

Sam and Lillian Unsworth and four children left England in 1895, settling in Ontario for a couple of years before travelling by covered wagon to Oregon. Sam took up sheep farming. However, after their daughter died tragically, they could no longer bear to live there.

In 1907, they packed up the wagons and moved to Saskatchewan, establishing a ranch near the Cypress Hills where they raised sheep, cattle and Clydesdale horses – and fifteen children. Art, the youngest grandchild of 43, remembers the Murraydale Stampede Picnic when he was a little boy, when the ladies outdid each other with fried chicken, cold roast beef, potato salads, homemade buns, rhubarb and pumpkin pies and, the special treat, fresh-churned ice cream.

And, of course, baked beans. The original recipe calls for salt pork; nowadays, it’s just as likely to be made with wieners.

Ranch-Style Baked Beans

1 lb (450 grams) white beans
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp mustard powder
1/4 cup molasses
3 cups water
1/2 lb (225 grams) bacon, diced
2-3 onions, finely chopped

Soak beans overnight. Drain, wash and boil beans in water until tender. Drain. Mix brown sugar, salt, pepper, mustard powder, molasses and water. Pour over beans. Stir in bacon and onions. Cover and bake at 250F for 7–8 hours, checking now and then and adding more water if needed. Remove lid for the final two hours of baking.

Variation: if you have a leftover ham bone, boil it with the beans, then use chopped ham in place of bacon.

(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)

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