Hundred-year-old Baked Bean Recipe

Baked beans are a classic summer dish to take to picnics, barbeques, and potluck dinners. So I was excited when I found a hundred-year-old recipe for Baked Beans.

It takes a long time to make Baked Beans the traditional way. They need to be soaked overnight and then cooked for many hours. I thought about possible shortcuts (using canned beans or cooking the beans in a pressure cooker), but I decided that it would be more authentic to follow the directions in the old recipe.

The old-fashioned Baked Beans were hearty and tasty – however, they had much less sauce than most modern versions. When I served them, I asked my husband what he thought. He said, “They remind me of Baked Beans relatives used to bring to reunions years ago.”

I still had a few doubts, so when I begin to write this post I said to him, “I’m still not sure about this recipe. The beans seemed a little dry and there wasn’t much sauce.”

He replied, “They were good.”

So the final verdict is that they aren’t quite like modern Baked Beans, but they’re good.

Source: Larkin Housewives’ Cook Book (1915)

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Baked Beans

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

2 cups dried pea or navy beans (I used navy beans.)

4 cups water + additional water

1 small onion, diced (approximately 1/3 cup)

2-3 slices bacon, diced + bacon for top of dish

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons canned diced tomatoes (or use diced fresh tomatoes)

2 tablespoons molasses or brown sugar (I used molasses.)

1/8 tablespoon baking soda


Soak dried beans in 4 cups water overnight, then drain. Put the soaked beans in a large saucepan, add onions, diced bacon, and salt, then cover with water. Bring to a boil using high heat. Reduce heat and gently simmer until the beans are almost tender (about 1 hour).  Remove from heat and add tomatoes, molasses/brown sugar, and baking soda; Place in 2-quart heavy casserole dish or bean crock; arrange bacon slices on the top and sprinkle with pepper; cover.  Put in oven (preheated to 325° F.), and bake for 4-5 hours. If necessary, add additional hot water to keep moist while cooking. (I didn’t add any water.)

43 thoughts on “Hundred-year-old Baked Bean Recipe

  1. I remember when I first made a recipe something like this when I was just married. I slaved away all afternoon, and was so disappointed to bring to table – a casserole of baked beans!

    1. Your comment made me smile. I can definitely relate it. Baked beans take a long time to make (though much of the time they are just cooking and there’s no active prep) – yet you don’t end up with a showy dish.

  2. The original recipe has an interesting cooking technique, with the draining of the first boil and using cold water again. I’m wondering now if that didn’t make the beans softer more quickly.
    In any case, these look very tasty. Though I find baked beans too heavy for summer, so I’ll keep it in mind for winter. 🙂

    1. I also wondered about why the water is drained. I thought that perhaps it was to remove some of the starch from the beans. I actually wondered why the recipe stated “cold water”. I’ve seen other bean recipes where boiling water is put on the beans for the soaking process (or sometimes they are brought to a boil before soaking).

      1. There are so many methods. I think it has to do with the different beans, and even water in different places. I lately learned that altitude can make huge differences in cooking as well. Guess we need to explore and find what’s working for us. 🙂

        1. I did not know other people do not drain the water. It is common knowledge as far as I know. The first batch of water is always drained as that
          helps for those who have intestinal issues with bean dishes. We always drain the soaking water and I don’t know anyone that wouldn’t. I never follow anyone’s recipe where I see they don’t as I figure they just don’t know what they are talking about, so how would I trust the recipe. Like for example…just throw it all in a crockpot and cook for 7 hours etc.

          We never used bacon, we use salt pork chunks. Baked beans should not be runny and goopy like the stuff out of a can. My standard recipe is from my maternal grandma who was from Boston and she cooked hers in a beanpot. They are not sugar sweet but have a good molasses taste.

          Since there are only 3 of us left at home I often freeze the leftovers in 1 cup containers for easy additions to a meal.

          1. I agree – baked beans shouldn’t be runny and goopy. The beans in a can are a poor imitation of the real thing. Thanks for the explanation of why the water should be drained after the beans are soaked. I probably should have known this, but somehow didn’t (or at least didn’t remember it).

  3. I’ve never made baked beans the traditional way. You try so many old timey recipes. I bet you’ve learned a few old secrets along the way. Your beans look delicious. 🙂

    1. I have a lot of fun trying the old recipes. I’m not sure how many cooking secrets I’ve learned, but it’s interesting how cooking processes and procedures sometimes have changed across the years.

  4. Your beans look like my Moms ! Love those memories 🙂 I make bake beans ,I use my own canned beans instead of soaking them overnight then cooking. The canned beans are not so dry then.

    1. Like you, when I make the baked bean recipe that I usually make, I use canned beans. It really shortens the cooking time; and, at least for me, makes the final result more predictable. I’m impressed that you can your own beans.

  5. These remind me of the delicious ones my mother made. They were not real saucy and I still prefer beans that way. I’m going to get out my bean pot and try this when the weather turns cool! Thank you!

    1. It’s nice to hear that this post brought back some good food memories. If you like beans that aren’t very saucy, I think that you’ll like this recipe.

  6. I have never cared for baked beans, but this gave a whole new slant on it. Looking up a bit of research (i.e. “pea beans”) led to a new trail. Turns out pea beans were renamed ‘navy beans’ due to discovery of high protein and filling ability so they were standard fare for sailors. That led to Senate Bean Soup, and some fun in the newspaper archives attempting to answer a question that apparently has no answer.

    So, when you next make baked beans, send a shout out! I think I might like yours. 🙂

  7. I love baked beans, but these clearly are different from the ones I grew up with. They were saucier and had more bacon, which was chopped up and mixed with the beans. Then, more brown sugar was sprinkled on top. But I’m not averse to a new recipe, and this will be a good one once autumn arrives, and it’s not a hundred degrees!

    1. The baked beans you describe are much closer to the baked beans that I grew up with, too – though I think that we also put ketchup in them. Thinking of you, and hope that things are okay. The storm looks terrible on the news.

      1. Yes! We did add ketchup, and a lot of finely chopped onion. They were delicious. The flood isn’t delicious. It is just terrible, and it’s getting worse. The river flooding is going to be hitting records, too. At this point, everyone is a little grim and stunned, but there are amazing reports of rescues, and our agency leaders are doing spectacular work.

        1. Whew, it sounds awful. They’ve shown a few of the rescues on the national media. It’s good to hear that agency leaders are doing such a good job during this difficult time. Take care and stay safe.

  8. My Vermont Gram made baked beans with soldier beans, salt pork and maple syrup. She soaked the beans overnight and cooked them for hours, restoring the water level with boiling water when it got too low. The finished product was not very saucy but I recall they were delicious.

  9. I may have to try this one – different from my aunt Marty’s. Which I simplified the past few years. I buy Bush’s Baked Beans (1 can of bbq and 1 can of original and 1 small can of onion flavor) add corn syrup to thicken and crumbled bacon. I also drain the can of original to make it thicken better. Bake until thick and wala homemade baked beans without the fuss. 🙂 In my old age I try to simplify my recipes. Never thought to use tomatoes though, your recipe sound really tasty.

    1. I’m with you – simple and easy-to-make recipes are the best. One note about the recipe I posted — The baked beans had very little tomato taste. The recipe only called for 2 tablespoons of tomatoes -which really isn’t very much. I think that more would need to added to get much of a tomato flavor.

      1. I will try it the way it is first – sounds yummy. Waiting for it to get a bit cooler though. So far though its been a nice late summer with cool evenings and even had to dig out some long sleeves shirts. 😀 Can’t wait for the chill in the air that fall brings! How is your weather?

        1. It’s starting to feel a little like fall here, too – though I must admit that I’m not looking forward to the cooler weather. Winter always seems to come too fast. 🙂

          1. We have had some mild winters but are bracing ourselves for that wicked winter just waiting to strike! Looking forward to seeing some good old fashioned recipes to warm our souls during the winter months. 🙂

    1. I also find it really fascinating how much some recipes have changed across the years (as well as how little some other recipes have changed). Sometimes I can come up with a possible reason for the evolving recipes, but other times I have no idea why they might have changed.

  10. I just ran into your blog today. Apparently we think alike as far as vintage recipes although mine aren’t quite as old as yours.

    Baked beans are one of those things that aren’t hard to make, there are a million recipes out there, but some of them are just not as satisfying as others. There was a woman at our church who made the best baked beans. I think that recipe might be lost to time, but I’ve been able to cobble together something that was similar.

    1. I visited your blog. It was fun to see the old recipes that you’ve made. I agree that there are many ways to make baked beans – and that some recipes are tastier than others.

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