They are old beans, been in a plastic jar for over a year. Previous batch did not soften even after overnight soak and slow cooking for over 24 hours.
Wow, them are some old beans! I've had the same thing happen, only I found out that the beans were not just older than one year, but 20! Have you tried pressure cooking some?
I recently learned that throwing a piece of sea vegetables (kombu or kelp are available in natural foods stores or sections of grocery stores) in the boiling water helps soften the beans up and adds amazing flavor. It's not during the soaking, but it accomplishes what you might be after. I had great success with black beans. See: http://www.ironboundisland.com/seaweeds/kelp/
Pre-boil for five minutes before the long soak: boil the the beans in 1.5 times the amount of water for five minutes. Then let them soak for 2 hours or more. Drain and add back twice the amount of fresh water as beans and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cover, cook 1 hour or until tender.
Baking Soda. Just a pinch.
Martin, I say TOSS those old beans! If the pressure cooker works, fine. Otherwise, you have to waste too much time as well as gas or electricity.
A bit of baking soda might help, but really, if they wouldn't cook in 24 hours, you should just toss them and buy new beans.
I don't know which did it, the bay leaves or the baking soda, but the beans cooked up nice and soft and delicious. Thanks for all the advice and help. I love this site (stay away from my bud light) hehehe