recipe: baking up some heirloom beans

IMADE VEGETARIAN BAKED BEANS WITH MARTHA STEWART, my ex-boss, on her television show in 2011, one of the more out-of-body experiences of the relatively quiet current life I began when I dropped out of the corporate world in 2007. After that show, a lot of people wrote in to ask for the recipe, and the source of the heirloom beans I use. Their wish was my command (although it had to wait till I made another batch so I could take some photos first); my answers became this blog post.

The way I cook is all about big potsful of things, and freezing or canning for later: cook once, eat multiple times. For the price of 1 pound of dry beans and a few simple ingredients, the yield is enough for six or eight portions, most of which are frozen in small containers for later use.

This easy recipe takes very little active prep, but lots of waiting on each end for soaking and then baking. We gardeners are patient types, no?

beans and onions

vegetarian baked beans

  • ingredients:
    1 pound dry beans (I like a Cranberry type, but a creamier-textured Navy-style small white bean is the traditional choice and cooks faster; in this batch I used ‘Yellow Eye’)
  • 2 quartered medium onions
  • 1/4 cup+ molasses (I use Wholesome Sweeteners organic style, very rich)
  • 1/4 cup+ maple syrup — I like Dark Amber for robust flavor
  • 4 Tbsp. grainy mustard
  • 4-6 Italian-style paste tomatoes, roughly cut up—alternatively use other tomatoes, canned tomatoes, or even some red sauce
  • boiling water, enough to cover an inch or so above solids in pot
  • small amount of olive oil

Soak the beans overnight; discard the water. Add fresh water and simmer beans briefly (maybe 30 minutes) to just barely tender while preheating oven to 350ish. The “right” temperature really varies with the size of pot you are using; you want the beans to bubble in the oven.

Put water on to boil.

Coat an oven-proof covered pot, such as a Dutch oven or large Pyrex casserole or ceramic bean pot, with a splash of olive oil. Lay the quartered onions in the bottom. (Note on selecting a pot: There must be enough headroom to put in all ingredients above, plus at least 1 inch of boiling water, plus clearance to prevent overflows.)

Drain beans; dress them with the other ingredients above (sweeteners and mustard and tomatoes). Pour over the onions.

Pour boiling water over the mixture until it’s an inch or so above the solids.

Cover and bake until done, between two hours and forever.  Many recipes say to leave baked beans uncovered while cooking; doing so, with certain large beans, I have had it take six hours or more. I cover the casserole, and periodically check to see if water is receding. If so, I taste a bean; if not nearly ready, I add more boiling water, often a couple of times.

Once the beans reach an almost-ready tenderness, uncover and turn up heat to 375F the last hour (give or take) to reduce the liquid to a thick, dark brown syrup, turning the ingredients a couple of times to mix everything up.

If the flavor isn’t sweet enough, or tomato-ey enough, or wants salt, add it during this last phase.  Or balance the maple-to-molasses ratio to suit your taste. This is a flexible process, not delicate chemistry. You can even make the beans soupier, with more sauce than I like, by not cooking down so long.

Again: The freshness of the beans you start with, how well you soak/cook them first, and the vessel you cook in really make the timing and temperature combination vary.  Experiment.

frozen tomatoes

baked-bean tips and tricks

  • Don’t want to pre-cook the beans? Soak them for 24 hours, changing water several times, and plan to bake them longer, perhaps all day.
  • No good tomatoes in winter? I avoid needing to use canned by freezing a few bags of whole paste types at harvest time (above) for just this kind of recipe.
  • Like them spicy? Add a few dashes of hot sauce to the dressing.
  • Like them with meat? Instead of some or all of the onion, place chunks of thick-cut bacon in the bottom of the pan.
  • Want more? Double the recipe, and use a larger pot.
  • Like leftovers? I portion the baked beans out, then freeze for later meals.

what beans to use

want to grow your own?

GROW A variety of bean adapted to shelling, and let the pods dry on the plant. If rain is forecast late in the growing cycle, pull whole plants, roots and all, and dry them indoors, such as hanging on a line in the garage.


  • Rancho Gordo heirloom beans (sold by the pound, dried, for culinary use)
  1. Kathy Stappenbeck says:

    You’re kidding? Since I retired I’ve been watching the Martha Stewart show and since I read one of your books and found your newsletter I have been hoping you’d make a guest appearance and now you say you were on the show recently? How could I have missed that one?! Well, guess I’ll just have to look for it in reruns.
    I’m going to try the baked beans and as always will read the newsletter from cover to cover.

  2. Catie says:

    I just stumbled across your site in my never-ending quest for good gardening information and found your bean information. I’ve grown beans before but mostly for eating green – the thought of growing my own dried beans is inspiring, and I’ve been using more and more dried beans in my recipes, so thank you! I’ll have to check out the seed sources you mentioned, and I can’t wait to try this baked bean recipe in the slow cooker. What? You’ve actually been on TV and written books? Guess I’ll have to check them out as well. Again, thanks, and I can’t wait to read more. Catie

    1. Margaret says:

      Thanksm Catie, for the very kind words. You will like the baked beans, if I do say so myself. :) Every batch can be a little different until you get your personal take on it down — more molasses or more maple, cooked till the liquid is really dark (not burnt, but with a tiny touch of that flavor) or less so, what kind of beans…fun! Enjoy.

  3. Jean says:

    Hello, Margaret,

    I’m in Istanbul, Turkey and just caught your appearance on Martha Stewart. Your recipe for beans is just what I’ve been looking for – vegetarian because pork is unavailable here, and featuring cranberry beans which are widely available here, dry and fresh in season. Looking forward to making this recipe for my family and sharing it with friends, who aren’t accustomed to a maple flavour with beans. Cheers! Jean

    1. margaret says:

      Enjoy it, Jean. Istanbul was one of my favorite trips ever — and believe it or not I went there in like 1973! It was really wacky then. Loved it. I love the combination of maple and molasses and mustard and tomato and you can mix them ingredients to taste and experiment. So nice to hear from you!

  4. Pam Kueber says:

    Hi Margaret, I made these yesterday. I think I kind of screwed up the simmering step — it boiled a couple of times. Do you think this is the reason that my beans turned out a bit dry? Or maybe they were just old? They were heirloom organics but in a package that I…. am not really quite sure how long were in my pantry. Oopsy. Anyway, still tastes great – even my husband (who had been skeptical — “You’re making what?” — was mesmerized by the aroma. Finally, beans were in the oven like 4 hours and still not cooking soft. It was 9:30 p.m. by this time, so I threw them in the crock pot on low for like another 12 hours. Worked like a charm. Instead of using the oven at all next time — I am going to use the crock pot. My crock pot book says that to prep the beans, cook them on low in water in the crock pot overnight. Then, make everything up and add them again and cook them in crock pot for another 12 hours. I think this will be much more energy efficient. I will report back. FINALLY, can you make a recipe for vegetarian chili — using the same principles? I am more into spicy than sweet. Pretty please! :) THANKS for all the inspiration, I am LOVING cooked BEANS these days! xoxo

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Pam. I have had batches take 6 hours or more, and some cook in 2. Wacky, and yes, depends on age of bean, type of bean, etc. I always have to add more and more and more water along the way with anything but the most tender beans. Did you pre-cook the beans?

      Funny you say chili — I made a batch this summer and just ate the last container from the freezer. Must make again and invent a recipe!

  5. Zipi says:

    Hi Margaret. I am in Israel. I saw you on Martha’s show. I made this baked beans dish last week. It came out delicious. I had canellini beans at home. I pre cooked the beans as directed and added dried chili and brown sugar. I had to add more water,twice . It cooked about 3-4 hours in the oven. What surprised me the most, was the onions meaty flesh. Great recipe!

  6. Virginia says:

    Please explain to me “grainy mustard’ – – a kind of mustard powder, or a jarred mustard?
    Thank you much.
    PS: Any info on how to grow for food in containers on a small balcony and a small front porch. Am leaving my garden of 25 years to a senior apartment. Can’t stop gardening!!! Grown my own dried beans for years. Can I still do it?

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Virginia. Prepared (jar) mustard with whole mustard grains in them such as the dijon type — and it will say grainy on the label (plus through the glass jar you’ll see the texture, I suspect. Nothing fancy — they have them everywhere.

      As for your dried beans, in a small space garden going forward you’d need to grow them up teepees from really big pots, but you’d need a number of teepees to get lots of beans. Not sure what layout you will have to work with.

  7. Mathew G. says:

    I am baking this bean recipe today. We’re two hours in! I used cranberry beans soaked overnight and cooked stove-top for about an hour. After another hour baking, I believe they’ll be tender enough for the cover to come off the dutch oven for reduction.

    I added some assorted garden peppers, diced leftover ham, and a smoked Serrano for a little kick.

  8. betsy says:

    I just made these beans, saw them in the newest Rancho Gordo cookbook, and boy are they yummy! I followed the recipe to a T and I’m glad I did. They will become a regular for us.
    What a great blog and thank you!

  9. Lisa Martin says:

    This bean recipe sounds delicious. I like to add cubed tromboncino or butternut squash when I cook up dry beans, to make them sweet and creamy without added sugars.

  10. Sally says:

    I was given a bean pot as a wedding present 65 years (!) ago, and always bake beans in it. It’s pretty much an all-day affair, which I love, because the house smells heavenly!

  11. Ellen McHale says:

    Wow. I watched the interview with Martha – no bean cooking, but a fascinating chat about you leaving corporate to live simply. I had tears! Margaret, I’ve been reading your blog for, I don’t know – 3 -5 years now. I live in very sunny (hmmm, today is an infrequent stormy rain,) California. (I can drive to see/ touch snow in about 30 – 40 minutes in the Sierras!) But still I learn from and enjoy your garden site immensely. And as long as I am writing, thank you for Ruth Stout (!!!!) and I believe HRH Prince Charles,Organic Gardening. You are incredible lady. TA, Ellen

  12. Lauren ? says:

    Last night in celebration of the coming big snow (which wasn’t so big) I made a bunch of whole wheat loaves. Tomorrow in honor of the icy temps this baked bean recipe has to happen! Nom nom! Looking into that pot on the video I could smell those beans and taste them! I was saying, “Go on, lick that spoon!”

  13. Jane R says:

    Thank you for the recipe and information. I’ve been growing scarlet runner beans for 4 years now. They have been easy to grow, great for pollinators, easy to store and delicious. Unfortunately, the last two crops were disappointing. There were plenty of flowers but the beans didn’t come in till very late in the season, so the crops were very small.
    I tried researching the problem and the only thing I could find suggested bud drop due to extreme heat. I’m going to give another variety a try this spring.

  14. Deborah Bates-Parenteau says:

    Hi Margaret,

    I took a chance and made up a batch of your bean recipe – my only glitch was my mix-up on converting the 1 pound of beans into “Canadian” grams where I wound up actually cooking 2 pounds! A lot of beans, I can tell you – great recipe – I hope they freeze well as I really didn’t have a choice given the amount that I wound up with.

    Thanks for the recipe –

  15. Sharon says:

    into what seems like endless lockdown, the prepper part of my brain got me a lot of dried beans and welcome what to do with them.

  16. Linda Bridges says:

    Both my grandmothers added Coleman’s powdered, ground mustard instead of prepared! Other than that, very similar!

  17. Gail A says:

    These look amazing! They look so good that I can taste it. What inspiration with the shortening days and freezing temperatures ahead. A great reminder that protein rich delicious food can be had from basic ingredients and meat free. I imagine that smoky paprika or chili can add a kick. But a traditional flavor is just as good. Vegetarian for 50 years and have still to make such a meal, shame on me!

  18. Sonya says:

    I cannot wait to try this recipe! Baked beans are one of my faves and I need a good recipe so I can make them myself & not rely on a can. Love this newsletter!

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