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Neal Hartman’s Baked Butter Beans

Neal Hartman’s Baked Butter Beans
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Neal Hartman. Summer 2010
         Neal Hartman was an exceptional man.  He was truly and dearly loved and when he was taken from us a year and a half ago, his loss was felt all over his community of Sag Harbor.  Neal was a pillar of Christ Episcopal Church, a stalwart of the Historical Society, the Sag Harbor Tree Fund, The Bay Street Theater, and his bridge club.  On top of that, he grew the sweetest tomatoes, made the most extraordinary Strawberry jam, cooked and baked and pickled.  On the morning that he died of an aortic aneurysm, he was scheduled for an all-day canning session with his and our dear friend Michael.  We were all bereft at his loss, aged just 64, and our heartbreak for his partner of 40 years, David, was unimaginable.  Neal left us a legacy of community service, deep friendship and incredible sorrow that he is no longer here.  And he also left behind something that alone would keep him in our hearts forever, his amazing recipe for Baked Butter Beans.
         What I did not know, as I prepared this dish for our 4th of July festivities, was that people all over town have been clamoring for this recipe ever since Neal died.  They knew he’d given it to someone but no one seemed to know to whom.  They’d asked the usual suspects, the local food glitterati, to no avail.  Then Michael spied the recipe casually opened on our kitchen counter.  He simply could not believe his eyes.  And he asked me to share this on Chewing the Fat.        
         There’s a funny tale attached to this dish:  We were giving a rather large dinner party and this dish is perfect for that kind of occasion.  First of all, the recipe yields a ton of the stuff.  It’s simple as pie and the flavors of the smoky bacon, sweet tomatoes, brown sugar and white wine vinegar combine in an explosion of flavor that put their cousins, regular baked beans, to shame. But back to our dinner party…One of the understandings of entertaining out here is that houseguests will be part of the guest list.
         Enter two men we’d never met before.  Once the meal was set out on the buffet, they informed us that they were vegetarian.  As readers know, I have no problem cooking meatless dishes but for some reason, the only thing that was meatless was a green salad.  Every last item contained meat including the famous Neal Hartman Baked Butter Beans.   I saw the men spooning helpings onto their plates and thought it only fair to admit to the bacon in the dish.  The men were un-phased and said they’d eat around the bacon.   Again and again, they returned to the casserole, heaping beans on their plates.  Need I tell you there was not one piece of bacon left either on their plates nor in the casserole.  I still wonder if that dinner led them down the garden path to eating meat.  Or, at the very least, bacon.   
This is one of those amazingly easy and satisfying dishes that are such pure Americana, they really belong in your repertoire.  Here’s Neal’s recipe and here’s to you, dear friend.

3 thoughts on “Neal Hartman’s Baked Butter Beans”

  • I've always felt the legacy of a being a great cook/chef/or just one who loved to cook for others means more than the simple words evoke. To have such fond memories of someone is a legacy unto itself but to be able to share with others a dish that brings to mind such happy memories of a dearly loved individual….what a gift.

    Thank you for sharing not only the recipe but the story of a wonderful person to whom we will all attribute this delicious dish.

  • How extremely thoughtful of you to post this comment! The spirit of Neal is very much alive here and I do hope you get to taste his culinary skill at work in this recipe. Thanks again, Recipe Addict!

  • Monte
    What a great tribute to our beloved friend Neal. Whenever Neal made these beans they were alway the first to go and never any let for seconds. Alot of us are glad the mystery of who Neal gave the recipe is over. I am in the kitchen making them right NOW!!

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