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Real Baked Beans + Medicine Hat

Baked beans 1

We’ve become hooked on short-haul trips to small towns we’ve never explored in our own province. W asked if we could go on another adventure as soon as he finished school, and so we obliged by packing up the car and driving to Medicine Hat on Friday afternoon – as good a place to go as any when the forecast tipped beyond 30 degrees. The temperature in southern Alberta this weekend ranged from about 34-38 – no better time to hunker down in a hotel that has air conditioning and a water slide. (Also: no obligation to cook, do dishes or laundry.) We beat the heat with a visit to Tino’s drive-in (hilariously thin burgers, but people apparently go for the chili fries, and the ice cream was cold) and Swirls Ice Cream (my fave).

Tino's
Swirls

Because I’m a full-on coffee snob, Mike walked across the street to Tim Horton’s while I went in search of a proper cappuccino. The Station Coffee Co in downtown Medicine Hat brews Fratello beans, has some sufficiently dense and sticky cinnamon buns and squares, and is right across the street from one of the prettiest garden centres I’ve been to, with one of the many weathered brick walls you’ll see around town acting as a backdrop. Warning: it’s closed on Sundays. I KNOW. I would have bought two on Saturday and drank the other one cold. See? Coffee snob.

the station
MedHat Garden Centre

Hop across the river (I do love a town that has bridges) and you’ll find Zucchini Blossom Café, a cute little coffee shop in an equally adorable old-school block of awesome little spots – it’s a haven of baked goods, soups, salads, sandwiches and pizza – I took a cold slice of veggie pizza with me, and wound up polishing the whole thing off in the car, along with perfectly tart apple-rhubarb crumble.

zucchini blossom

A couple doors down, Skinny’s Smokehouse serves up hickory smoked pulled pork, ribs, chicken and some of the best brisket I’ve had – with cold Cokes in glass bottles and rolls of paper towel (always a good sign) and Mad magazine on the tabletops.

Skinny's 3
Skinny's 2

You can take home meat by the pound, their own barbecue sauces, or try a porkzilla – pulled pork, bacon and sausage on a soft bun. Everything comes with a side, and we tried all of them – dill-heavy potato salad, chili-spiced baked beans and truly great slaw – a rarity, it seems. And I was hooked on the thinly sliced quick pickles – I finished everyone’s off.

Skinny's 1

Apparently, people go for Thai food when in Medicine Hat. I did not know this. Fortunately, I know people who did, and they tipped us off. The Thai Orchid Room, set in the back of a sleepy new strip mall by the highway with not much around it – is not something we could have stumbled upon, but the curry and pad Thai were some of the best I’ve had. And I learned a new cocktail: gin + pomegranate juice + champagne (or prosecco), which I want to name the Alberta Summer, but I think in order to have that name it should be made with rhubarb.

Thai orchid

(These photos do not give this pad Thai and peanut curry justice. Truly.)

On Sunday morning, after discovering that most of wee downtown Medicine Hat is closed on Sundays, we hopped over to the 1912 Medalta Pottery Factory – a national historic site (!!) in the clay district, joking in the 37 degree heat that some kids get to go to Disneyland, others’ parents drag them to small town pottery museums.

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Medalta kiln
medalta 7

It was fascinating, to all of us – in a century-old factory with a row of enormous beehive kilns out front you could actually go into, it was part working ceramic studio with artists in residence, and part original factory, where in the early 1900s workers made ceramic urns, pots, jugs and dishes that were shipped around the world.

medalta 10

medalta 6

medalta 9

medalta 8

For centuries, the South Saskatchewan River deposited alluvial silt along its banks, creating rich deposits of clay that was found to have great ceramic and brick making potential. That combined with a formation that kept the area in cheap natural gas meant Medicine Hat was a hub of industrial activity at the time.

medalta 3

medalta 2

Also: they made bean pots. This, as you know, is right up my alley.

soaking beans
medalta bean pot 2

In Canada’s early days, when home cooking was done in a large central fireplace, whomever was charged with feeding everyone would simmer beans in heavy Medalta pots nestled in the coals at the back of the fireplace – behind the breads and pies, where it could stay and simmer for hours. The pots were hardy enough to be passed from generation to generation – and so when we exited the exhibit into the gift shop and they actually had some, I bought one – and it came with their real baked bean recipe tucked inside. I made a pot today, regardless of the fact that it was close to 30 outside. (If you don’t have a bean pot, you could bake these in any heavy baking dish – or do them in the slow cooker on low for 6-8 hours; that way they won’t heat up your house.)

medalta baked beans 1

Real Medalta Baked Beans

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June 30, 2015

  • Makes: Serves 8 or so.

Ingredients

2 cups dry navy (little white) beans

1 small onion, finely chopped

2-3 garlic cloves, crushed

3/4 cup ketchup

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup molasses

2 Tbsp. grainy mustard

2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

1In a bowl or medium pot, cover the beans with enough water to cover by a couple inches and let soak for 6-8 hours; alternatively, bring the two to a boil, cook for a minute, then remove from heat and let stand for 2 hours. Pour off the excess water. Preheat the oven to 325F.

2Put the beans into a medium pot (if they aren't already), add enough water to cover by a couple inches and bring to a simmer; cook for 30-40 minutes, until tender but still firm to the bite. Drain, reserving the cooking water. Transfer the beans to your bean pot (or a heavy baking dish) and add the onion, garlic, ketchup, brown sugar, molasses, mustard, balsamic, Worcestershire, salt and pepper. Add 2 cups of the leftover cooking water (add regular water to top it up if you need to) and stir to combine.

3Bake, uncovered (this is the way I did it - the recipe didn't specify) for 4-5 hours, or until the beans are tender and the sauce is thick and sticky around the edges. If they seem too dry, add more water.

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This post was sponsored by Travel Alberta – a great partnership, since I love showing off this province so much. As always, all thoughts and words are my own.

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29 comments on “Real Baked Beans + Medicine Hat

  1. Sue.D
    July 1, 2015 at 10:42 am

    The pottery museum looks fascinating! Looks worth a special trip, I’ll have to put it on the calendar. Lovely photos as always!

  2. jo
    July 1, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    We went to the pottery works a few years ago and recognized the same pattern of plates that my mother-in-law had. She only had two left, and during a move she was going to throw them out. I SAVED THEM. They are my favorite.
    Also, I’m glad you have this partnership with Travel Alberta. It gives me new ideas of where to explore next in Alberta with all the great tips. I’ve thought “I’d like to go to (name of random town) but I don’t know what I’d do there.”
    So, Thanks!

  3. Lee Anne
    July 1, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    The pottery museum looks really cool. I’ve got a turn of the century 24 quart crock from that factory. It was my great granny’s. I still amazed that I acquired it, as anything of any intrigue or value is snapped up by my vulture like aunts. We’re toying with the idea of a road trip this summer, and may need to make a stop in Medicine Hat, as I’ve been wanting a decent baked bean pot for a very long time.

  4. Ali
    July 1, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    I don’t normally comment, but couldn’t help it – who would have thought, Medicine Hat featured food. I’m from Medicine Hat, and I swear, I thought I was the only one who made sure to stop by the Thai Orchid Room anytime I visit home (and you got two of my favourite dishes)! Once upon a time Tino’s burgers were so big you could hardly fit them in your mouth!

    Glad you enjoyed your trip down there. Looks like you hit all the good spots!

  5. margo
    July 1, 2015 at 11:14 pm

    Next year, you should bring your family to the Ponoka Stampede. I say next year, because it has just finished tonight. It may seem odd to a Calgarian to check out a small town Stampede, but although I’m not a huge rodeo fan I must admit it is a pretty impressive show, the biggest of its kind! Our town swells to more than twice its population for over a week. Highly recommended.
    Tomorrow we will be back to our sleepy little town. : )
    And if you do, I want to know you’re here!

  6. Laurie from Richmond
    July 2, 2015 at 8:46 am

    An interesting view of Medicine Hat, thank you. I likely won’t get to go, so I appreciated this. I also appreciate the recipe for baked beans. Thank you so much!

  7. Mel
    July 2, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    I’m an ex-Hatter living in Vancouver. I too love the Zucchini Blossom, and whenever I go back to the Hat, I always stop at least once at the Inspire Cafe. I’d also recommend a side trip to the Cypress Hills for a picnic or camping if you have the time.

  8. Jules @ WolfItDown
    July 2, 2015 at 3:48 pm

    MMMM! Homemade baked beans are the best! Especially if you get them a little caramelized and sticky 😀 So good! Thank you so much for the recipe 😀 x

  9. Lesley
    July 3, 2015 at 10:00 am

    Next year, I propose you take a road trip to Kipling, SK, home of World’s Largest Red Paperclip and the Great Saskatchewan Bacon Festival, held in late June. We’re about 90 min. SE of Regina and would love to see you here!

  10. Adrian
    July 3, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    Next time you go, take your bikes- M.H. has miles and miles of wonderful bike trails along the river, all interconnected.( I wonder if they are still there or if they were washed away in the flood.)

  11. Susan
    July 3, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    I’m really enjoying your travel posts. You’ve given me some great ideas for unique family road trips.

    I made these beans in my crockpot yesterday. They were delicious. I added a bit of bacon and just a pinch of red chili flakes, both of which totally made the dish.

    Thank you for the wonderful recipes!

  12. Julia
    July 3, 2015 at 11:02 pm

    Great post!

    A while ago you posted, stressed, about the moral dilemma of sponsored blog posts.

    My advice: Take their money! This is pure gold. Super enjoyable reading, amazing photos, and a new, burning desire to go to The Hat.

    I will personally fistfight anyone who tries to call you out on it. 🙂

  13. Diane
    July 3, 2015 at 11:35 pm

    Love this post Julie. Keep em coming! Baked beans on the next rainy day for sure. (Maybe tomorrow?)

  14. Carol S-B
    July 4, 2015 at 10:17 pm

    You know, the Hat has always been a place we’ve blown through on our way… somewhere else.
    There is a lot to see there! I love your Local Tourist posts, Julie. Next time, we’ll spend a bit of time there.

  15. Bernice
    July 6, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    yep, they are a real thing. My grandma has been making baked beans in a Medalta pot forever..it also works great for goulash. There are some great eating spots in Medicine Hat if you know where to look (and you do!). I always pick up a bag of fresh roasted espresso from Mad Hatter Coffee Roastery when I pass through.

  16. Bridget Oland
    July 7, 2015 at 9:40 am

    I’m completely fascinated by this post! Thanks for the introduction to Medalta(I’m half embarrassed to say that I hadn’t heard of t hem.)The recipe looks delicious too…

  17. Gina
    July 9, 2015 at 10:43 pm

    Great tour, good reviews, and glad to see/hear how much you liked our city. Like lots of smaller places, there are plenty of unique gems to be found and enjoyed, if only one looks for them ( or is told about them!)

  18. Dan Thompson
    July 17, 2015 at 10:26 am

    Thank you for a real cool picture of my city!! I’ve been to all of the places you highlighted and agree with your assessment of all of them. Except for maybe Skinny’s. It is even better than you rave!! Again, thank you.

  19. Marty
    July 17, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    I love Tino’s! Classic taste, but I have to agree about the size of their patties. However, I ate at Burger King for the first time in years tonight and noticed their patty size is comparable (unfortunately). I’d take Tino’s over Peter’s in Calgary any day of the week! Glad you liked The Hat. There are some hidden gems.

  20. Peggie Turnbull
    July 17, 2015 at 8:14 pm

    Loved the medalta museum -I have some pottery but a special yellow bowl that seems to have been in the family for about 100 years. I still use it – my daughter calls it Granma’s Magic Mixing Bowl for it seems that whatever recipe we try making, using the bowl, is a never fail recipe! He great grandmother used it – her grandmother used it, I use it and now she uses it! They just don’t make stuff like this anymore. We’ll be trying out the baked bean recipe and using our medalta bean pot. Cheers.

  21. Samantha
    July 18, 2015 at 7:27 am

    I live in Medicine Hat and one thing to mention about Medalta is they hold a market every Thursday evening. Local vendors sell their home made goods, food trucks make all their yummy food available for purchase and you can usually grab a glass of wine too. And don’t forget to check in with Stella at Sweet Pure Honey for the best honey and some home made soap.

  22. Cassie
    July 21, 2015 at 12:20 am

    Nice post 🙂 i live in the hat! I work in the same strip as the zuchinni blossom and they know is well there! You will have to stop at mauros and sushi and thai next time!
    And yes, vast majority of smaller businesses are closed on sunday. As they should be!

  23. Charlene
    July 21, 2015 at 11:14 pm

    Thanks for the recipe! I’m from the Hat & my kids used to go to Medalta & make pottery (or something that vaguely resembled pottery in an alien spaceship sort of way). Now you’ve got me planning to go buy a bean pot there! If you visit us again in the heat of summer, check out Echodale Park just southwest of the city. ?

  24. Sydney
    July 26, 2015 at 7:25 am

    Want a great burger in the Hat, Julie? Go to Redcliff’s Robyn’s Classic Burgers-local ingredients (bakery buns sooo delish) REAL BURGER MEAT! Fabulous fabulous! Beats any place any day! ….speaking of their bakery-best cinn buns ever…ever!!!

  25. Vivian
    January 22, 2016 at 11:29 pm

    Hmmm, what might a pristine Medalta bean pot be worth? I’m cooking up batch tomorrow….in said bean pot (with lid)!

  26. Heather
    July 17, 2016 at 10:38 am

    Thanks for this. I’m always wishing for dining options in Medicine Hat when I’m making my trip to visit family in Regina. We’ll have to spend a night some time and go see the pottery museum. Not sure if you take requests for recipe development, but I wish someone would do one for British style baked beans – less sweet, more tomato-ey, like the Heinz Beanz in the turquoise tin. Couldn’t find a good recipe online for the slow cooker, so tried to make up my own, and they were a bit of a disaster.

  27. kickpleat
    July 17, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    I totally want to go to that pottery museum & I’d buy a bean pot too. Love this look into small towns, I’m marking it down for our next cross-country adventure!

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