Calico Bean Casserole, that classic potluck favorite with beef, bacon, and three kinds of beans. This is the ultimate picnic side dish or an easy weeknight meal!
Here we are in September, summer and sweet corn season is, for the most part, behind us. But as they say, there is no rest for the weary, field corn harvest is right around the corner.
I have talked about the field corn harvest here before, unlike sweet corn season which lasts many weeks, we harvest all the field corn over the course of a long weekend with the help of a friend and neighboring farm.
It is a massive job, that requires a joint effort. My husband and our help along with the neighboring farmer and his help will spend hours on tractors and running the bagger to put away enough corn silage to feed the herd all winter.
At the end of the day anywhere from 10-12 men (plus whoever happens to be around) will need to be fed. I join my mother-in-law in preparing lunch and dinners to be taken out to the fields for the guys. This year I think I will share my planned menus for the field meals, but for right now let’s talk beans!
Calico Bean Casserole is one of my go-to recipes during harvest. For harvest, this casserole serves as a hearty and tasty side dish, for everyday purposes, it is probably better suited as a main dish.
Grandma Brown’s Baked Beans
My calico bean casserole features Grandma Brown’s Baked Beans, if you are from Upstate New York you are probably familiar with the yellow and brown can of beans. Baked Beans are not considered a regional specialty of Upstate New York, but Grandma Brown’s Beans certainly are. The instantly recognizable cans have been fundamentally unchanged for as long as I can remember. But you know what they say: Everything old is new again, and the old school packaging seems to be doing well riding a wave of interest in all things retro, and every grocery store locally stocks the 16 ounce can and the ginormous larger “family size” 7lb can.
Made in Mexico, NY (near Oswego) Grandma Browns has a reputation of an almost reclusive company. On the retro-ish label there’s no toll-free customer service number, nor is there a website or email address. Just a physical street address in Mexico, NY where you can send your “correspondence”, you know paper, pens and stamp style communication. I believe in his last book, A Taste of Upstate New York: The People and the Stories Behind 40 Food Favorites (New York State Series), Author Chuck D’imperio lamented the fact that despite numerous attempts on his part to contact the Grandma Brown’s company for an interview or profile of the company history he was meant with nothing more than silence.
While someday we would love to learn more about the family behind Grandma Brown’s Baked Beans, for now, we are content to just enjoy them! Many people who grew up enjoying Grandma Brown’s Baked Beans use the canned beans as a starting point for their own bean recipes, like my calico bean casserole. Reading the list of ingredients on the can it is easy to see why this is the base of many baked bean dishes, you will find no chemicals/additives/preservatives. The ingredients listed are water, navy beans, brown sugar, salt, bacon and baking soda, the minimal ingredients and lack of spices and seasonings make it the perfect canvas for you own unique bean dish.
Aside from the baked beans, you may be wondering what other kinds of beans you can use in calico bean casserole if you don’t happen to have a particular variety in your pantry. Lima, butter, Cannelini, pinto, great northern, more kidney or navy beans, whatever. Use any beans you can find. It really doesn’t matter. In fact, there are no hard and fast rules here. The original recipe I have from a church cookbook calls for pork & beans, which I swapped out for the Grandma Browns Baked Beans. Like things a little spicier? Try Pinto Beans in a Medium Chili Sauce, the customization options are endless with this casserole.
Calico Bean Casserole
- 1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 (16 ounce) can Grandma Brown's Home Baked Beans
- 1 (15 ounce) can Navy beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 (15 ounce) can Pinto Beans in mild chili sauce
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon dry mustard
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1/2 pound bacon, chopped
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1 medium sized green bell pepper, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
In a large skillet over medium heat, fry the bacon until crispy, stirring occasionally. Remove bacon from pan and drain on paper towels. Set bacon aside.
Discard all but 2 tablespoons of bacon fat from the pan.
Season the beef with salt and pepper and add the meat, and peppers and onions to the bacon fat in the pan. Cook until the ground beef is no longer pink. Drain fat.
In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the beans. Stir in the ketchup, apple cider vinegar, dry mustard, brown sugar and cooked beef and pepper/onion mixture. Mix thoroughly.
Pour the bean and meat mixture into a 9x13 inch baking dish. Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes.