Recipe and story by Jenni Lessard
As a child, my ears always perked up when food was discussed at family gatherings, whether the topic was grandma’s famous, flakey pie crusts or Aunt Ruth’s oversized bannocks with chokecherry jelly.
Imagine my excitement the first time the conversation turned to Great Aunt Mabel’s haystack baked beans!
I’m still not clear on whether her legendary beans were cooked in an actual haystack, where internal temperatures can reach close to those of a slow cooker. It might have been a hay box, which was used by Anglo Métis families like ours during that time near the settlement of Halcro, Saskatchewan on the north side of the South Saskatchewan River and northeast of Batoche.
What everyone agreed on was that at some point in each visit to Aunt Mabel’s house, the children would be sent outside to fetch the beans, and everyone would “oohh” and “ahhhhh” when the cover was lifted, and the sweet and savoury scent wafted up.
I use lentils instead of beans now because they cook faster and are grown right here on the prairies.
Lard would have been Aunt Mabel’s fat of choice to sauté the vegetables, but canola oil is a heart-healthy option that’s low in saturated fats and lets the flavours of the vegetables shine through.
My oven has replaced the haystack, but whenever I make this, I marvel at how many mouths have been fed across the generations with such an economical yet delicious and satisfying dish.
Full of fibre and protein and low in saturated fat, it’s easy to prepare and can be assembled ahead of time. Often, I use leftover brewed coffee in place of the water! For extra kick, add pickled jalapeños.
Enjoy it as an entree’ served with salad and bread or bannock or as a side dish at a BBQ or holiday meal.
Leftovers freeze well for up to two months and make an ideal base for chili or soup.
Aunt Mabel’s Haystack Baked Lentils
- 1 1/2 cups green lentils, rinsed
- 19 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
- 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 Tbsp molasses
- 3 cups water
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 Tbsp canola oil
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 celery stalk, diced
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Place rinsed lentils in a bean pot or 8 cup (2L) casserole with tomatoes, vinegar, molasses, water, brown sugar, cumin, ginger, salt and pepper and bay leaf.
- In large non-stick skillet, heat canola oil over medium heat. Add carrot, celery and onion; cook until softened about 5 minutes. Add garlic, cook an additional minute; add to lentil mixture and stir.
- Bake in a 350 °F( 180 °C) oven covered, for 1 hour; uncover, stir and bake an additional 30 minutes to 1 hour until sauce is thickened. Can be served hot or cold and freezes well.