Bean pots can take awhile. In the oven, you'll need at least eight hours, and out of doors, they can even take days.
They're well worth it, to be sure—any homegrown Mainer can tell you that—but even so, getting them in the ground can be a stretch. It was one thing in the days of logging camps; today, it's tempting to forgetting cooking them altogether, and simply crack open a bean bake from the can.
But I prefer to meet in the middle, to make a compromise of sorts. I'd rather not dig a bean pit, but neither do I like the variety from the can. So bean lovers, meet quick beans. I discovered them accidentally—after ignoring a jar of beans for several weeks. They'd been dry and left to soak in a Mason jar, lid on, water cool, and in the fridge. Each night I thought perhaps I'd take them out for tacos, but with every evening came another entree, bean free.
Finally, this morning, I panicked. They must be cooked now, I decided, lest they grow too finicky for hope. I rinsed them in the colander under cool water, feeling them grow soft beneath my fingers. They were very soft, in fact, much softer than the average soaked batch, and I realized it was because I'd left them so long.
I started chopping bacon and onions, and set a cast iron pan on to get hot. I sauteed the bacon first, then the onions, letting the fat soak up from the pan. When both were shrunken and tender, I poured in the well soaked beans, maple sugar, and molasses. Water was next to cover the mix, and I left it to simmer for an hour. Slowly, slowly, the water disappeared. The syrup thickened, the beans grew increasingly soft, and the gentle flavor of bacon and onions began to permeate the pan.
They may not have technically been baked, but my beans emerged on the fly—soft, sweet and delicious.
BAKED BEANS ON THE FLY
Sautee 1 medium onion, chopped, with 4 thick slices bacon, cut into bite sized pieces, until both are soft and fat and onions are translucent. Add 2 cups pre-soaked baking beans (Jacob's Cattle, Yellow Eye, and Soldier beans all work equally well and are sold dry through Wood Prairie Farm in Maine), 1/2 cup maple syrup, and 2 tablespoons molasses. Cover with water and bring to a boil; simmer for 1 hour, or until water has evaporated and beans are tender. Season with salt to taste. Eat hot as a side, or serve for a hearty breakfast with scrambled eggs and toast.