If someone offers you Boston baked beans, you’ll most likely receive a sweet-savory blend of navy beans that have been slow-cooked in molasses, black pepper, and salt pork. That classic style has been synonymous with the city known as “Beantown” for centuries. If you’re in Chicago, however, asking for Boston baked beans might get you something a little different: sugar-coated peanuts dyed red to look like cooked beans.
Though the exact origins and inventors of the mimic candies are unknown, they became popular in the 1920s and ’30s. The main producer today, the Windy City’s Ferrara Candy Company, has been making the crunchy red nuggets since 1924. To make their “baked beans,” Ferrara uses a traditional candy-making process known as “panning.” Confectioners place the peanuts in a rotating spherical pan, then mix in sugar, dye, and other ingredients as they spin.
You might find other brands of Boston baked beans, but Ferrera’s is the most common. Look for the retro brick-red label.