Blackstrap molasses is the rich, black syrup responsible for the distinct flavor of Boston baked beans and ‘authentic’ gingerbread. Molasses is the byproduct of the process of turning sugar cane into sugar, and blackstrap molasses is the thick, concentrated liquid that remains after the third boiling of the sugar syrup. The thick, bittersweet syrup is available at Liberty Market in an unsulphured, organic form (made from processing organically-grown sugar cane).
Blackstrap molasses was the most popular sweetener until the late 1800’s, as refined sugar was very expensive. Since the 17th century, molasses has been imported into the United States from the Caribbean Islands. In 1733, England passed the Molasses Act of 1733 which placed a tariff on items obtained (by the colonists) from areas of the West Indies which were not under British rule. The Molasses Act of 1733 is thought to be one of the early events that ultimately led to colonial dissent and unrest.
In 1919, tragedy struck when a storage tank in Boston, Massachusetts ruptured, releasing over 2 million gallons of molasses in the Great Molasses Flood. 21 people died and property damage was significant as a 30-foot tidal wave of viscous syrup poured through the streets at speeds of up to 35 miles an hour.
Today, blackstrap molasses has regained popularity as a healthy sweetener owing to the significant amounts of minerals that it contains, including iron, calcium, copper, manganese, potassium and magnesium.
Here is a simple recipe for vegetarian baked beans in a slow-cooker. Traditional versions call for the addition of salt pork, but you can add crispy vegetarian ‘bacon’ instead, after the beans are done.
Slow-cooker vegetarian baked beans
- 2 cups dried beans (kidney, pinto or navy beans)
- 1/2 pound fake bacon cut into pieces
- a medium onion, chopped (about one cup)
- 1/2 cup catsup
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon prepared mustard
- 1/3 cup dark blackstrap molasses
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 3 cups hot water
Wash and pick over the beans, removing any odd beans or small pebbles you may find. Soak the beans overnight.
Drain the beans the next morning. Layer as follows: put half of the fake bacon on the bottom of the crock pot. Put half the beans on top of the bacon, then put half the chopped onion on top of the beans. Put the rest of the beans on top of the onions, and then the rest of the fake bacon.
Mix together the molasses, water, mustard, catsup, cider, brown sugar and hot water and pour it over everything in the crock pot (do not stir). Cook in the slow cooker for 8 hours on low.
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