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In the Bush’s Beans commercials, Duke, the family Golden Retriever, wants to sell the secret family recipe, but the Bush family always stops him. The dog is based on the Bush family’s real-life Golden Retriever, and the campaign, which began in 1995, made Bush’s the big dog of the canned baked beans market practically overnight, and their formula is now considered one of the top 10 biggest recipe secrets in the U.S.
The Bush Brothers & Company had been canning a variety of fruits and vegetables for over 60 years when, in 1969, the company created canned baked beans using a cherished recipe from a family matriarch. Sales jumped from ten thousand cases in the first year to over one hundred thousand cases in 1970. And just one year later sales hit a million cases. Today Bush’s makes over 80 percent of the canned baked beans sold in the U.S., and the secret family recipe remains a secret. Despite Duke’s attempts. A replica of the original recipe book—without the original recipe in it (drats!)—is on display at the company's visitor center in Chestnut Hill, Tennessee.
I chose to hack the “Country Style” version of Bush’s Beans because I don’t think the original flavor has enough, uh, flavor. Country Style is similar to Original, but richer, with more brown sugar. The recipe starts by soaking dry small white beans in a brine overnight. The salt in the water helps to soften the skins, but don’t go over 14 hours or the skins may begin to fall off.
My first versions tasted great but lacked the deep brown color of the original created by the addition of caramel coloring, which can be hard to find. But a more common ingredient called Kitchen Bouquet did the trick here, adding a rich brown tone that perfectly matches the color of the real thing.