Updated Monday, August 23rd, 2010
Total Time: 30
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
We found literally hundreds of recipes for baked beans. We couldn't test all of them, but this maple-laced, slow-cooked dish ranks high among our favorites. We love the bacon, but be sure to use a brand that's not too smoky, to avoid overpowering the rest of the party. (We got ours at Singletons' General Store in Proctorsville, Vermont; singletonsvt.com.) Yellow-eye beans are a traditional Maine crop, but navy beans are a good substitute (although they don't hold their shape as well).
Pick over beans; discard debris. Soak overnight in fresh water, just enough to cover. The next day, discard the water; cover beans with fresh water and bring them to a rapid boil for about 20 minutes, or until tender. Add baking soda and stir well. Drain beans, reserving the liquid.
Heat oven to 350°. Peel onion, and pin bay leaf to it with clove; set aside. Leave 6 bacon strips whole; cut the rest into half-inch pieces. Line the bottom of a 3-quart bean pot (or Dutch oven) with 3 bacon strips.
In a medium-size bowl, combine beans, bacon pieces, pepper, dry mustard, maple syrup, and salt. Spoon mixture into pot and nestle onion in the center. Arrange remaining bacon strips on top. Add enough reserved liquid to cover beans, and cover the pot with the lid. Cook 4 to 5 hours or until beans are tender and flavorful. If beans start to dry out, add more reserved liquid. Leave the pot uncovered for the last half-hour or so to let beans brown.
Just before serving, mix sweet mustard and vinegar and stir into beans. Adjust seasoning, adding salt, maple syrup, mustard, or vinegar to taste. Beans should be a little sweet, a little spicy, and well seasoned.
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