The Summer of 1979 in a Can: Ode to Grandma Brown's Baked Beans
Some food is so evocative of a specific time, place or person it's hard to disconnect the two. There weren't too many major holidays or family get-togethers that didn't include my mother making Grandma Brown's baked beans. Not just straight up out of the can, of course. That wasn't Bev's style. They had to be doctored up, with ketchup and brown sugar and a bit of onion and then baked in the oven covered in bacon, just the way Ivan liked them. They were a cheap and easy side dish to feed the crowd of family members that inevitably showed up every weekend at Wells or Caroga Lake when we used to go camping in the summertime. Sometimes, my mother would bake them in a baking dish over the campfire. That woman would cook anything over a campfire, including a lasagna.
Other campers would walk by our campsite and stare at us as we sat down to a full Sunday dinner with all the trimmings, while they shlumped back to their site to eat their hot dogs and hamburgers on paper plates. My mother was on to this idea of "glamping" before it was a twinkle in some marketer's eye.
Grandma Brown's Baked Beans are still sold today - the exact same label on the can - and I mean the exact same label. Made in Mexico, NY. There's no toll free number on the can, nor is there a website address. Just an address in Mexico where you can send your "correspondence". Does anyone out there still write actual paper letters to companies anymore? I don't know if they sell their products outside of upstate New York even. While baked beans in general are not exactly a regional specialty here, Grandma Brown's baked beans certainly are.
So, sure I can make Tyler Florence's awesome baked beans recipe using canned beans, chipotle peppers and rosemary, but that wouldn't bring us back to the summer of 1979, now would it?
So here's to summer food before the advent of cell phones, the internet and goat cheese pizza, for chrissakes:
Beverly's Secret Grandma Brown's Baked Bean recipe (modified by me):
Take a couple smaller cans of Grandma Brown's Baked Beans or 1 or 2 large cans for a crowd and empty the contents of the can into an ovenproof baking dish. Finely chop 1 small onion (or more to taste) and 5 oz of cooked bacon and add them to the beans. Squirt about 1 cup of ketchup or more over the top of the beans. Then squirt some French's yellow mustard over the top, too (as much or as little as you want. Squirt some nice designs while you're at it). Then pour on some molasses - again as much or as little as you want. I would use about a cup. About half a cup of worstershire sauce over the top finishes it off. Mix it all up in the baking dish until mixed thoroughly; smooth out the top, cover with tin foil (as my mother would call it - that's aluminum foil to you and me), and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 1/2 hour to 45 minutes until hot and bubbly. If you like your beans crusty, take off the foil halfway through baking.
Next time I'll see if I can re-create Cousin Martha's famous (and I do mean famous) taco salad recipe with Kraft Catalina dressing. Oh, the memories.....