If using a smaller pot, you may have to blanch the green beans in batches. Set out a large bowl of ice water before blanching the beans.
In a large saucepan or stock pot, bring 4 quarts water and 1 tablespoon salt to boil. Add the green beans and boil until tender-crisp, but still bright green, about 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well and immediately plunge into ice water to stop the cooking.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp, about 5 minutes.
Add the blanched beans, brown sugar, and water. Bring to a simmer and cook until heated through, about 3 minutes. Season to taste. Remove to a serving dish with a slotted spoon.
Green beans: To substitute frozen beans, cook 2 pounds of frozen green beans according to the package directions, plunging in to the ice bath to stop the cooking (or just rinse under cold water).
Bacon: Chop up the bacon while it's frozen (firm but not rock-hard). It's so much easier and less greasy that way.
Brown sugar: Some recipes call for extra brown sugar. If you like your beans a little on the sweet side, go ahead and add another 1/4 cup to the recipe.
Yield: This recipe (with 2 pounds of fresh green beans) makes 8 servings, about 1 cup each.
Storage: Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Make ahead: The beans can also be blanched a day in advance and stored covered in the refrigerator. You can also fry the bacon the day before (hold on to the bacon and the bacon fat). Reheat the bacon in a skillet so it gets crispy again, then proceed with the recipe.
Onions or shallots: Sauté some sliced onions or shallots in with the bacon, taking advantage of the bacon grease to get them nice and toasty, then add the beans. Or top with canned fried onions!
Vinegar: If you like a little tartness, add a little cider vinegar, white vinegar, or even Balsamic vinegar with the water. The vinegar will reduce down and flavor everything. If you think you've gone too far, add a little extra brown sugar to balance it out.