Jacob’s Cattle Beans with Bacon & Sage

jacobs-cattle-bacon12 April 2013: The perfect lunch on a grey & rainy April afternoon, this simple pot of beans is elevated by plenty of aromatics, crumbled dried sage, and good-quality local bacon. Always a pleasure to have some in the fridge!

Why, yes, the Great Dried Bean Experiment 2009 is still ongoing, thank you very much! This week’s beans are Jacob’s Cattle, a lovely, variegated bean, originally cultivated by the Passamaquoddy Indians in Maine, and the old standard for classic New England baked beans.

Having purchased the so far excellent Heirloom Beans cookbook, by Rancho Gordo’s Steve Sando, I decided to try Jacob’s Cattle Beans with Pancetta and Sage from the book. Local pancetta being quite difficult to find, however, I used thick-cut local bacon instead. Since it’s still winter, fresh local sage is also hard to come by: luckily I dried some CSA sage over the summer and still have a stash.

So far, I’m batting 1000 with this cookbook: these beans were delicious; hearty, smoky, thick and flavorful, and so filling that this pot will last me several meals. I can hardly wait to have them for breakfast over scrambled eggs!

Adapted from Jacob’s Cattle Beans with Pancetta and Sage, from Heirloom Beans, by Steve Sando and Vanessa Barrington.

baconJacob’s Cattle Beans with Bacon & Sage


  • ½ lb dried Jacob’s Cattle beans, soaked
  • 3 pieces (about 5 oz) thick-cut bacon
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 4-5 small cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 heaping tsp dried, crumbled sage, divided
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • a splash of wine or vinegar, for deglazing
  • olive oil, for garnish (optional)


  1. Transfer beans and their soaking liquid to a medium saucepan. Add water to cover by at least 1 inch, if necessary, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer gently, covered, until beans just begin to soften, about 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon to a clean plate. Pour off all but 1 tbsp of bacon grease (pour through a fine sieve and reserve for future recipes). Deglaze pan with a splash of wine or vinegar and scrape up all of the browned bits. Add onions, celery, carrot, and garlic to the skillet. Crumble in 1 teaspoon of dried sage and sprinkle with salt. Sauté over low heat, very slowly, until vegetables are very soft and slightly caramelized, about 20 minutes.
  3. Add vegetables and salt to the beans. Simmer, partially covered, until beans are tender and cooking liquid has thickened, about 1 hour 15 minutes. During the final 5 minutes of cooking, add the remaining 1 tsp of sage and freshly ground black pepper: taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot, drizzled with olive oil and topped with crumbled bacon.

Serves 4 – 6.


  1. The original recipe specified pancetta and fresh sage. Sauté pancetta with the vegetables and use olive oil or bacon grease for added fat as necessary. If using fresh sage, use a total of 2 tablespoons.
  2. Cranberry beans or Good Mother Stallard beans are recommend as substitutions for Jacob’s Cattle.


Up to 5 days refrigerated. Like most bean recipes, this will only improve after a day or two in the refrigerator.


The ingredients are available year-round but as this is a hearty, smoky and meaty dish, it is best in winter.


  1. localkitchen

    I got mine from Seed Savers Exchange. The organic ones work out to about $6.25/lb (if you buy 5 lbs), the non-organic to $5.25/lb, exclusive of shipping.


    Last year Cayuga Pure Organics had some; they sold out so I assume they grew more and will have some more in the coming months. I’m not sure what their prices are.


    Depending on where you live, you can go to Local Harvest and search for “jacob’s cattle beans”; there may be some at a local farm.


    And lastly, when in doubt, I often try Amazon; Jacob’s Cattle Beans from Barry Farm for $4.89/lb:


    Happy shopping!

  2. I’m a huge supporter of Rancho Gordo Heirloom Beans, and Steve Sando’s cookbook. I’ve been buying his beans for a couple of years and pretty much tried them all now; I never get tired of them. I’m starting to find heirloom beans at the farmers markets over on the seacoast here in New Hampshire, grown by a farmer in Maine. I haven’t grown them myself yet — maybe next year. Enjoy your beans…the more you eat, the less gas they’ll produce.

  3. Oona Malarkey

    I made this recipe with Smoky Maple Bacon tempeh strips. I used half a package and it gave the soup a wonderful, rich, bacon flavor. I am pleased and this will be a repeat recipe for me.

    • Hmm – well, the picture is fairly awful, so I’m not sure I would trust the color. Honestly can’t remember as I haven’t made this one in quite some time. I do tend to like VERY crispy (ie practically burnt) bacon, so that could contribute a darker color to my dish.

  4. Devon H

    Thank you for introducing me/us to Rancho Gordo. The first I heard about them was on your blog. I love beans normally, but I’m pregnant and craving them fierce. I put an order in directly to Rancho Gordo for a couple bags of beans and hominy, and the New Mexican Chile powder and Mexican oregano. I am in love! I don’t care if they’re 5 bucks a pound. To me, they are worth every penny. 🙂

    • They are wonderful, aren’t they? I came back from San Francisco a few weeks ago with my luggage stuffed full of beans. And that Mexican oregano is fabulous as well: makes every dish just a *little* bit exotic. Enjoy!

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