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Slow Cooker Vegetarian Baked Beans | A New England Classic Made Meatless

Slow Cooker Vegetarian Baked Beans | A New England Classic Made Meatless
8 votes, 3.75 avg. rating (75% score)

Confession…there are some things I almost exclusively eat from a can or a jar.

I cringe a little bit admitting that, but I also know I’m not entirely sorry. There are select foods that I gratefully accept in their sealed form…things I eat seasonally or sparingly like pumpkin, caramel sauce, and coconut milk. I don’t need to crack open a coconut for myself anytime soon.

There are other preserved foods, however, that I adore and eat constantly, and those are the ones I want to learn to make for myself at least once. Things like salsa, jam, tomato sauce, and today’s feature: old-fashioned baked beans.

vegetarian baked beans

Slow-cooked Boston Baked Beans

A cornerstone of the traditional New England diet, baked beans first and foremost serve as an example of early colonial survival spirit. The limited provisions they had brought with them from England, coupled with the harsh New England winters, meant that the settlers had to turn to nearby Native Americans for new sources of food if they were to survive.

These included what is charmingly referred to as the “Three Sisters” combination of corn, squash, and beans.  My favorite of these three is the latter, especially in the form of slow-cooked baked beans.  New England’s baked beans are known for the inclusion of molasses, an ingredient abundant in Boston kitchens when the city was a major player in the rum trade.  Sugar cane from the West Indies was shipped to Boston to be made into rum, leaving behind sweet molasses as a by-product.  Resourceful New Englanders began adding it to everything, including another New England classic, Anadama Bread.

vegetarian baked beans and molasses

Great Northern beans and molasses help make baked beans great.

I knew I wanted to make my own old-fashioned baked beans, but right away I encountered a modern challenge in the form of salt pork – one of the recipe’s mainstays. My goal is always to celebrate tradition, but I am also a decade-long vegetarian. I thought about making them authentically and having others taste them, but then I realized that to make them my own way would be perfectly in line with the “can do” colonial spirit, so I carried on.

And since I was already going rogue by making old-fashioned baked beans without salt pork, I figured I might as well keep going by cooking them in a slow cooker instead of a bean pot.

I hope you can embrace my adapted colonial spirit that saw the advantage in making homemade baked beans that would be ready exactly as I got home from work.  On their own, as part of a BBQ spread, or on top of a slice of Boston Brown Bread…baked beans fit the bill.

vegetarian baked beans in the slow cooker

In the slow cooker and ready to simmer!

During my six-month stint living in Scotland back in 2004 I discovered how delicious baked beans also were for breakfast.  Baked beans in the UK always come in a tomato-based sauce rather than our preferred brown sugar and molasses combination, but they are still worth trying.  Don’t forget the eggs.

vegetarian baked beans on toast

Also great for breakfast!

I did a lot of research for this dish and learned that when it comes to baked beans, once you stray from the simple colonial version, the sky is pretty much the limit.  I kept track of things as I added them on an erasable marker board.

My baked bean recipe will, no doubt, undergo countless tweaks over the coming years, but for a first-timer, I think they came out pretty darn good.

vegetarian baked beans

Slow cooker vegetarian baked beans are worth the wait.

I’d love to hear about your family baked bean recipe, so please feel free to share special techniques or ingredients in the comments section.  I will be making these again and would love to try some of your tips!

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Aimee Seavey

Author:

Aimee Seavey

Biography:

Assistant Editor Aimee Seavey is a staff writer for Yankee Magazine and assists in the development and promotion of content for YankeeMagazine.com through blogging and social media outlets.
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20 Responses to Slow Cooker Vegetarian Baked Beans | A New England Classic Made Meatless

  1. Jen @ BeantownBaker.com August 4, 2011 at 9:14 am #

    I love that you embraced the colonial spirit to adapt a baked beans recipe to fit your needs. I make mine in the crockpot as well, but I add bacon to mine, so I can’t help you with suggested ingredients to add…

    • Vicki August 18, 2011 at 11:13 am #

      Well, if you don’t mind going outside New England for an ingredient, a good dollop of Dijon mustard (I like the coarse, country version) instead of the dry mustard adds a little oomph.

  2. Jen August 18, 2011 at 11:37 am #

    I can appreciate your “colonial spirit” of adapting to a situation but I am a purist when it comes to New England foods. My baked beans are made from a basic recipe and doesn’t add anything that doesn’t need to be there. The typical Boston Baked Beans recipe is the only one I use. I can’t even imagine not using a bean pot. Using a slow cooker just seems blasphemous.

  3. Alan August 18, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

    Using the slow cooker might be blasphemous and adding bacon a plus for many of us. But I applaud the adaptation. I think it might work just fine for slow cooker folks, or those that don’t have the bean pots. The ingredients look as if they’ll produce a fine tasting baked bean dish.

  4. Lois August 18, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

    We purists do not and would not add tomato paste or Worcestershire. My mother made hers in a bean pot (delicioso!). I’ve made them in the crockpot – good enough but not better.

  5. Tom August 18, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    It sounds delicious…..I’m off to the store…Thank you,
    Tom/NH

  6. Earl of Mass August 18, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

    Have capitulated to using slow cooker in the heat of summer, but my wife’s great grandmother’s beanpot gets used any time cool enough for the oven. Tomato paste and Worcestershire Never!

  7. Casey@Good. Food. Stories. August 18, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    I love that you write your recipes on a dry-erase board so you can update the quantities etc. as you tweak. I just keep a text file open, but this seems so much less messy. My poor food-strewn keyboard thanks you!

  8. Mary Howarth August 18, 2011 at 8:08 pm #

    Sorry, I don’t like either tomato paste or Worcestershire sauce. I use an old recipe from a Cape Cod friend, an old bean pot, and sometimes a little liquid smoke for variety. I’ll try them in the slow cooker – but I like the winter comfort of the oven on and the pot bubbling.

  9. Roberta S. Greenlaw August 20, 2011 at 7:35 pm #

    I have cooked beans in a pot and a crockpot. I mst say the crockpot is easier and less messy. Plus I always follow the New England bean recipe and it turns out great after 12 hours. Do in the night and in the morning, yum!! Bert

  10. Jacki Wilmot August 28, 2011 at 9:47 am #

    Help! I made Boston baked beans for the first time(in my crockpot). I have my moms bean pot; it’s ancient but still works, has it’s own plug but figured the crock would be easier. I followed the directions to the letter including parboiling the beans first. I had to cook the beans for like 16 hours and they were still not quite as soft as they should be. Would like to try these again. it was great watching the beans turn brown and making them as my grandmother used to. Why do you think the beans were still kinda crunchy?

    • Jennae December 22, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

      Did you remember to soak the beans overnight before putting them in the crockpot? I also drain the water from the overnight soak and use fresh in the crockpot.

    • Jean Carlan December 3, 2012 at 4:09 pm #

      A couple ingredients that keep cooked beans from getting to the right tenderness —- salt, hard water, acid (like from tomatoes or too much vinegar) or combinations of the above. For hard water, buy a gallon of distilled water to keep on hand. When in doubt, don’t throw it out —> sometimes a cycle in the ‘fridge and reheating seems to do the trick.

  11. Mari September 2, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    Great recipe for those of us who do not (or do) eat meat. I added some smoked paprika and the final result had a lovely, light smoky taste. The slow cooker is such a help for those of us that want hearty foods such as these but work long hours and are unable to keep an eye on things. Thank you

  12. Sarah Kohrs October 19, 2012 at 10:04 am #

    Thank you so much for the recipe! I was looking for a non-meat version of baked beans, while using dried beans (not canned). I really appreciate your post and did not realize there were such food-snobs with regards to Boston Baked Beans.

    I just wanted to encourage and applaud your creative spirit in cooking. It’s hard to endure unconstructive criticism that tears down creativity.

    Great job!

    • Gerri November 18, 2012 at 11:27 am #

      If you cannot say something nice, do not say anything at all. I am trying your recipe for a pot luck dinner at work tomorrow. I have a large crockpot so am attempting to double the recipe. Didn’t have enough real maple syrup on hand so used more brown sugar. Personally I think everything is better with worcheshire in it. My only other change was to add some Trader Joes African smoke spice. It comes in a fringed and adds a nice smokey touch. Thank you for posting this

      Gerri

  13. Gerri November 18, 2012 at 11:28 am #

    Darn spell check. Meant comes in a grinder

  14. Loren December 3, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    Jacki Wilmot_ I realize your comment is from 2011, but maybe you’ll get this. I had the same problem once! Crunchy beans even after soaking overnight + cooking for WAY longer than recipe called for. The culprit? EXPIRED beans! Yep, they expire alright. I checked the bean packaging afterwards and indeed, they had expired almost a year before. The solution? Always check expiry dates. Lesson learned. So, there – give the baked bean another chance! It won’t let you down.

  15. Liz W June 17, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

    I’ve always heard not to cook beans with tomatoes because of the acid, but don’t know about canned paste. I did it anyway, and I’m also nervous about the vinegar and the prepared mustard I used. I guess I’ll find out tonight – I have this recipe in my crockpot right now.

    Also wondering how sweet it turned out for people. I do like staying authentic when possible, but I’m ok with leaving pork out (like the writer said, they would have had to improvise anyway). I like the beans a bit less sweet – had I read the comments ahead of time, I probably would have left out the paste and the soy sauce subbed for the worcestershire.

  16. Stephanie May 15, 2014 at 9:12 pm #

    WOW thank you so much! tried this recipe and LOVE it! ♥♥♥

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