Brer Rabbit spills the beans
America must have been going through a dietary iron crisis during the late 1940s. In “Brer Rabbit’s Modern Recipes for Modern Living,” the Brer Rabbit Molasses cookbook we found in our archives earlier this year, the text repeatedly talks about ways to sneak iron into children’s diets with something sweet.
They recommend putting molasses on cereal at breakfast, in cookies at lunch, on toast at snack time, and over ice cream for dessert. To wash it all down, there’s the Brer Rabbit Milk Shake, demonstrated in this quaint scene in which two rabbits dressed like waiters at the Ritz pour milk and molasses into Miss Wholesome’s glass.
Talk about the sweet life.
Brer Rabbit is a brand of molasses that started in New Orleans in 1907, while Joel Chandler Harris was alive and writing Brer Rabbit stories. More than a century later, the label is still around and is now marketed by B&G Foods, a conglomerate based in New Jersey. The recipe booklet came out around 1950. We suspect that its preoccupation with dietary iron is a hangover from World War II, when meat was rationed and families really did have to worry about making up for missing nutrients.
We’ve run two recipes from the booklet this year: Brer Rabbit Molasses Ginger Cookies (in April) and Brer Rabbit Barbecue Sauce (in July). Before we leave this culinary artifact behind, we thought we’d offer another recipe from its pages, for Brer Rabbit Boston Baked Beans — because even though Labor Day has passed, the picnic season lingers for weeks in the South.
Many thanks to our recipe tester, Pam Auchmutey. She passes along a tasting note: Despite the molasses, these beans are less sweet than your typical pot-luck baked beans, which often include maple syrup. Molasses is sweet but complex. It makes the beans rather interesting.
Brer Rabbit Boston Baked Beans
2 cups dry navy beans (1 16-ounce package)
4 slices of bacon (uncooked)
½ cup molasses (more for extra sweetness)
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon pepper (or more to taste)
1 small onion, chopped (optional)
1 ½ cups water from simmered beans
Wash bean and soak overnight in cold water to cover.
Bring to boil in same water (to preserve minerals and vitamins), adding extra water if needed. Simmer for 50 minutes or until beans are tender.
Drain beans, reserving cooking water.
Place beans in a large crockpot. Season with mustard, salt and pepper.
Add molasses and stir. Tuck bacon among beans.
Cook on high until mixture bubbles (about 1 hour). Turn to low and cook 3 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally. If needed, add water from simmered beans to moisten.
When fully cooked, beans will take on a brown hue. Turn crockpot to warm to serve.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings