1 pound dry Great Northern beans, soaked overnight (or using the quick soak method)
2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
2 medium yellow onions, diced small (about 2 cups)
1 large carrot, diced small (about 3/4 cup)
1/3 cup tomato paste
3 tablespoons blackstrap molasses (See Recipe Note)
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon or spicy brown mustard
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups apple cider
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (about 20 grinds)
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
4 garlic cloves, minced
Put the soaked beans in a medium saucepan and pour in 4 cups of water, or enough to cover the surface of the beans by about 1 inch. Set the pot over medium high heat and bring the liquid to a boil. As soon as it boils, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the beans for 1 1/2 hours, until they are tender and creamy. Don’t boil them. The water should be busy, like a Jacuzzi, but not toiling like a witch’s cauldron. Test several beans from around the pot to determine their texture.
While the beans cook, heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onions and carrots and sweat them for 30 minutes until the onions become a little flimsy and take on a smidgen of color from the carrots, whose diced corners will have become less severe as the veggies soften from the heat. Neither the onions nor the carrots should brown at all as they sweat. Keep an eye on the pot to make sure the heat isn’t too high, and give a stir now and again, but for the most part, leave these aromatics to their own devices.
So you don’t obsess over the simmering beans or the sweating vegetables, distract yourself by making the base for the cider sauce. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the tomato paste, molasses, mustard, and brown sugar until smooth and uniform. Slowly add the vinegar, whisking again until a looser paste forms. Pour the cider in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly to make a fluid mixture. Add the salt, pepper, and thyme. Stir again to incorporate. Set aside.
After the onions and carrots have sweated for 30 minutes, add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. Pour the cider sauce into the pot with the vegetables and stir everything together.
When you’re certain the beans are relatively unanimously tender, strain them, reserving the cooking liquid. Add the beans to the pot with the cider sauce. Measure 1 1/2 cups of the bean cooking liquid and add it to the beans in the cider sauce. (Note: There’s a good chance the amount of liquid left in your simmered beans will be just right and you can take your chances with dumping everything in without straining or measuring separately. But pot sizes, different guesstimates of initial water coverage, and varying temperatures can make for inconsistent totals of simmer liquid. I’ve been specific here to help avoid watering down beans. If you come up short on simmering liquid, simply add more water to hit the recommended 1 1/2 cups.)
Simmer the beans in this liquid now for another 30 to 45 minutes, until the beans thicken the sauce with their starches to your liking. For saucier beans, simmer closer to 30 minutes. For thicker, richer sauce that coats the beans, simmer for 45 minutes or longer. Stir occasionally as the beans cook in the sauce to prevent any from sticking to the bottom. Adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper to your taste.
Cool leftovers to room temperature before transferring to an airtight container. Refrigerate up to 1 week, or freeze for a month. When reheating the cider beans, add water a few tablespoons at a time to loosen the sauce as it warms.