The Ur-Baked Bean

The Ur-Baked Bean



A Culinary Etymology of the Baked Bean.



An Overly-long and Digressive Discourse on the Origins of the Bean on Toast and its Political Implications for Modern Geo-Politics.




The Family Tree of the Fart.


Nb There is a recipe in the middle of one of the digressions, if you look hard enough. Just trim off the pseudo-literary psycho-political fat…


There is a profound political discussion to be had at the heart of this recipe: One could ponder the question of baked bean history in terms of British Cultural Identity [sic]. I mean, given its national status you’d think it’d fired up the soldiers at the Battle of Hastings, or that Henry V had noshed a platter-full before delivering his inspirational spin-speech kindly provided by one W. Shakespeare, before going on to skewer les Frogs at Agincourt.


Surely the humble Baked Bean is as British as they come, testimony to our greatness in all things small?


But not so my fine friends.


The Baked Bean has altogether more – dare I say it? – foreign origins that have little to do with the green and pleasant land which Blake, displaying a not un-British lack of geographical comprehension (later to become “Bah humbug the whole map’s pink anyway!”) confused with the peaceful hills of Jersualem… No, I don’t know how he managed that either.


I’m quite enjoying this style of hearty rhetoric, so I say once again, that, my dear friends no! The Baked Bean is not a native of our gently perfumed shores (more of which perfuming effect later).


No, it seems we must swallow any hats we may have eaten and look to our American GI friends. In WW2 they arrived at the same conclusion that countless peoples have since expressed: British food is simply not what those frogs annoyingly still hopping about with their legs intact after Agincourt would call gourmet cuisine. Let us also consider that it must have been even less so during the glory years of rationing, although I so think it’s most unfair that Brussel sprouts still bear the war stigma and are now also made to pay for more modern anti-European clap trap. The GIs, rightly or wrongly sniffy of the British fodder on offer, brought their food over the Atlantic in tins… Tins of spam (the thought of which makes my stomach turn thanks to a run-in with a shark many years ago, which was followed by a lunch of glisteningly pink, fleshy spam); custard; stockings (not tinned); Chocolate (90% cockroach, Flo reliably informed me)…. etc etc.


And among the delicacies that kept the brave boys from Oklahoma, New Jersey, California, South Bend and other mythical places hearty was the Tin of Baked Beans.


Now, in my overactive little mind’s I spy the pale, moustachio-ed British soldier, who, realising that having plums in one’s mouth doesn’t unfortunately fill the belly, watch the bronzed, be-muscled, slick-haired GI scoff his tins of spam and beans, visibly grow a few inches more, whisk a pair of silk stocking out, and promptly rob Norman or Neville of his current squeeze. While historians have been quick to blame the silk stocking effect for these amorous defections, I disagree. I venture the hypothesis of spam and beans.


But I digress. This is not an excuse to twitter on about the special trans-Atlantic relationship that installed itself post WW2 between this sceptred isle and the land of the GI Joes / Josés.  (Note, important name here). Of course, given the intimate relationship between toast and baked beans, and the significance of toast-making as an important task of the fag in the Public School fagging system, the predominance of Public School twits in British politics,[1] and the similar subservience to be found in both the fagging system and the Special Relationship, given, as I say, the almost sacred place in which the gastronomic apogee Beans on Toast is given in British culture, it is hard for me to wrench myself from this political exposée.


But I must, as there is an altogether more rational exploration into the Origin of the Baked Bean with which I can bore my best beloved readers (a phrase which Kipling did to death in his books and which awoke in me a deep desire to do him to death).


And indeed this exploration into the yore of the Bean, into the Ur-era prefiguring the Age of Tin, takes us, ironically perhaps, to the New World, back across the Atlantic.


To Hollywood…


And the cinematographic angle, which I shall flog like John Wayne flogged the coach horses sprinting across the Nevada desert as yet another hapless blonde lost her bonnet and yet another hapless Indian lost his life, this cinematographic aspect, I say, is intrinsic to our understanding of the origins of the Baked Bean.


Which brings me back to GI Joe and his great grandfather José in Sacramento, or some other southern western bit of that vast country.


If you watch the staple films of the Western genre (which I love love love, to my great chagrin given that it is a genre which expounds pretty much every political ideology I grind my teeth over at night) you’ll see that there are three types of men:

1)   The Indians (who never have names, they just look consistently blood-thirsty, as though they’re about to roast a settler baby).

2)    The Manuel/ Diego / Josés of this cowboy world  – shifty-eyed, invariably picking their noses with a knife, and always looking for a way to do John Wayne down even though they’re meant to be on the same side.

3)   John Wayne and his blue-eyed friends, who are of course the goodies. Why they are never shown as the sun-burnt and red-nosed pickles they would inevitably have been after a lifetime’s hard riding across someone else’s prarie-land, I don’t know. A problem with make-up.


(In a short note I would add that there are also only two types of women in these films – the prostitute who scrubs John Wayne’s back in the bath-tub, and the lady who loses her bonnet. There might be someone else lurking unseen in the kitchen, but given that she is not involved in the cooking of this particular recipe, we can safely forget about her, as I’m sure movie history already has done).


Anyway, it is among this list of male character types that we look for those involved in the history the Ur-Baked Bean… Unfortunately in my quest for the source of the Ur-Baked Bean I shall have to do as history often does and leave the Indians to one side, for this is not their campfire story. No, by a curious twist this is José’s story, it is his recipe of beans (porotos), which are of course the staple of South and central American cuisine.


So I shall let José tell you how to make the porotos granados which are the abuelas of the Baked Bean.


Porrotos granados are easy to cook in any tin, over a fire, under the starry sky with a horse snorting in your face and a rifle under your poto.


For modern consumption I will adapt:

1)   Soak the beans in water.

2)   The next day fry an onion with some garlic and lots of fresh basil.

3)   Throw in some tomatoes, maybe 7, and let it simmer.

4)   Throw in the soaked beans.

5)   Throw in some chopped up pumpkin bits.

6)   Season.

7)   Simmer some more.

8)   When the pumpkin is soft take it out and whizz it to make a purée, then put back into the sauce.

9)   Throw in some sweet corn.

10) Hubble bubble it on low heat (or campfire), until the beans are cooked – maybe about 1 hour.”


This is how José recommends cooking it. As you can see, like any good cowboy, he doesn’t say much, preferring to chew a stalk of grass.  If the recipe is enigmatic or confusing, again, apologies, but that’s how cowboys are. I couldn’t get much more out of him.


So, journeying northwards from Mexico, the bean and it’s tomatoey sauce thus find their way into the cooking pots of the Josés of the cowboy world as they sit down to sup with the John Wayne who will inevitably put a bullet through him before the film is finished… Moments after shooting him John will regret it as he’s a terrible cook and can only half-remember José’s recipe. The sweet corn and the basil will be early victims to his forgetfulness… The onion may possibly escape censure, the garlic probably not… So what do we end up with in the Baked Bean as we know it? Nothing but the beans simmered in tomato….


But just as most Westerns are cracking stories, this is a corker of a recipe. It will put fire in your belly and fire up your bicycle.  The Chileans eat it in the summer, but this is a sweaty affair, and is best left to those of the other hemisphere. I would recommend it as a winter warmer. Simmer it, then slurp it as you mull over the strange ways of the world: The Indians defending their land and the Mexican / black / Indian cowboys erased from Hollywood’s cowboy colour-code; horses stomping in the night by a prairie campfire; the slings and arrows of fortune that are little Blighty’s lot, Hal and his archers at Agincourt, the arrival of José’s great-grandson as GI Joe with his tins and stockings…


And where are those tins travelling to now? Do the metaphorical stockings hold any charm and open any doors where Joe / José finds himself now? And somehow I find myself back in politics. Fie fie! Miriam, you are neither a back-scrubbing lady of the night, nor a serial bonnet-loser, so get back into the kitchen…


P.S This recipe and its accompanying thesis does not contain wikipedia. Academic facts have been subordinated to wild speculation.


Another disclosure – this is Miriam moonlighting as Flo – I simply can’t figure out to blog under my own name so I’m sullying Flo’s good name instead. Sorry Flea…



[1] Full disclosure: Am myself such a twit but have yet to subject British Politics to my inanities.


Bonsoir mesdames and messieurs,

Most sad I am zat I, Monsieur Lapin, lately of ze following address, La Bonne Boucherie, rue St Antoine, Paris 75004, am to leave you so soon.

I find myelf in ‘ot water. ‘Ot and salty water to be precise. ‘ow ees zis?

‘Ow did zees ‘appen, you may ask… Bon, je vais everysing expliquer

My name is Monsieur Lapin de la Moutarde (my ancestors were wise enough to drop le “d” to avoid ze guillotine), but I feel zat it ees an appropriate note of distinction for a bunny rrrabbit such as myself.

I and ‘alf a a good friend (yes, it ees incredible but it ees true, zey sell ‘alf a rabbit…) were taken ‘ome by a lady who ees looking much like ze ‘aystack in ze fields zat I lurrrved so much when I was ze leetle bunny rrabit ‘opping around in ze French countryside. Madame ‘Aystack takes us ‘ome wiz some bacón (lardons we call it, but I sink zat bacón is ze correct term en anglais, non?).

By zis stage sings are looking not so good for Monsieur Lapin de la Moutarde and ‘is ‘alf companion. We are in little pieces – not toooo little.

Ze bacón ‘its ze pan first and mon Dieu! What a noise it makes as it bubbles and fries. I am quite alarmed. Ze bacón is then saved.

It is ze turn of ze valiant Monsieur Lapin and his ‘alf friend to ‘it ze fat. I ‘ave ‘ad better days. I am browned off (I sink zis is ze anglais expression, non?). Zen we too are taken out of ze fat and some garlic and onion is put in. Zis is not bad – I love, mais love love love garlic. J’adore dior. “Because I am wors it”! Or am I mixing publicités??? Quelle honte!

Bon, peu importe… when some white wine is sloshed on top sings are not looking too bad. Non, non, non I say to myself. Zis is not so bad.

When bacón and I go back into ze pan I realise zat I am in ‘ot water (stock). It make me sink (to ze bottom but also “sink” as in “use my leetle grey cells” to quote zat gros Belge…). My mind, it wander… I sink of clouds, and grass, and cows, and moles, and voles… Zen my mind eet turn to my friends and family. I sink of mon cher Pierre, zat voleur de radis and ‘is strange relation wiz la Madame Potter… I sink of zose petites coquines Flopsy, Mopsy and zer stupid bruzzer Cotton Tail… I sink of ma cousine always complaining of being pulled out of ze ‘ats at ze magic shows… I sink of zat pauvre bunny who was boiled in ze film wiz zat ‘orrible blonde woman, oh mon Dieu quelle horreur!… I sink of zat lunatic Mister ‘Atter and ‘is obsession wiz ‘is ears and ‘is whiskers… Franchement ‘e and ‘is little friend nymphomaniaque Alice and zat woman most bizarre qui a des délusion de grandeur and believes she is la reine chopping off ze heads of all kinds of people left, right and centre are all most strange…  Chopping, chopping, chopping, la guillotine… I am sinking again of my own situation and how I ‘ave now been bubbling in zis water/wine /stock for presque 90 minutes. It is ‘ot in ‘ere.

Ze ‘aystack return and make ze pommes de terres. Her compagnon drinks a glass of vin rouge. La paix est rentrée dans la maison chez ‘Aystack et mari.

 My powers of ze little grey cells can muster zis little phrase which I am sinking of and which I share wiz you my chers amis:

Quand il y a la faim,

C’est la fin,

Pour le lapin.


Adieux mes chers amis. It ‘as been un grand plaisir.

Je vous prie d’agréer l’expression de mes sentiments les plus distingués,

 Monsieur Lapin de la Moutarde.

P.S Pardonnez-moi ze lack of photographs… Ze ‘Madame ‘Aystack is most useless in all ze matter technologique.


For five people and left overs for tomorrow for Andrés:

1 and ½ bunnies. Ask the butcher to do the chopping.

Some bacon (chop some of the fat off).


1 and ½ onions.

Olive oil.

Two tablespoons of fresh estragon.

Two tablespoons of fresh thyme.

Two tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley.


White wine.

Crème fraiche.

Dijon mustard and grainy mustard.

Heat olive oil.

Brown bacon. Set aside.

Brown the bunny bits. Set aside.

Lower heat and fry onion and garlic. Deglaze with white wine. Add estragon and thyme.

When reduced, add stock and layer in bunny and bacon. Put lid on and simmer for  about 60 mins. Make sure it’s quite reduced, so keep the lid off if there’s too much liquid.

When going to serve, heat up again a bit, stir in 3 tablespoons of Dijon mustard and three tablespoons of grain mustard, three tablespoons of crème fraiche, and 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley.

Serve with potato mash (I made the mistake of following the recipe and just doing boiled pots – but the sauce needs mash for soaking. Maybe a salad of mache and roquette?

Cheese afterwards….: A brebis, a comté, a young cantal, and a brie which is already making a run for the door…


Letter from Portugal, from a not-yet-Pickled-Person.

As I’m completely kitchen-erily under-equipped at the moment, in an apart hotel with no oven, the actual cooking is minimal.

I am however snaffling daily quantities of delicious foods and pasteleria, most in a “point and trough” sort of way as the actual pronunciation of the dishes is beyond my nasal capacities, this being Portugal… Lisbon, city of saudade  – which sounds like a slow-roasted pork dish but is actually the national habit of “feeling a wee bit sad and sorry for oneself”.

Other nasal challenges include the national dish of (bear with me on the spelling) baccalau e grau or something of that ilk, which is salted cod and chickpeas. I think that the secret is in the fact that neither fish nor chick are dressed, but only liberally slathered with olive oil after the cooking. A few fat garlic cloves nestle among the chickpeas, and the whole thing is washed down with a good red.

What else? A very fun duck and rice dish…Then the terror of the diabetic: pastels de Belén, yummy melt-in-mouth tartlets of custard named after the beautiful Baroque convent at Belén next to Lisbon…

Did I mention the red wine??? Or the porto, clever invention of the English: in order to be able to transport their wine in barrels without it going nasty and sour they added a drop of aguardiente to make it age gracefully. Perhaps everyone needs a drop or two of aguardiente to help with graceful ageing… I think it’s called pickling. Anyway, hence the fact that all ports are different – different measures of wine to aguardiente. The English influence is surprisingly omnipresent here, including in the fact that scones are readily available in most places. A very nice surprise, but are scones English or is this leading to a very du jour political debate on the state of Britishness – an indigestible  but necessary discussion best not left to the pickled persons of Westminster?

As I said, even my very modest cooking has been stymied by the kitchen appliances, or lack of, and the fact of being out and about all day up on the top of a fortress hill (Torres Vedras) in near-apocalyptic sunshine and planetary-gale-force winds. Hence the lack of recipes and photos. But I can pass on one “recipe” which my friend here uses for daily-brekkies, recommended by some frog (with his legs intact) doctor as supremely good for body and soul: Juice of 1 lemon; 1 piece of fruit chopped or however; 6 almonds; soya yoghurt; teaspoon of honey. Mishmashed (this is my sister’s very scientific term for “mixing ingredients to the required consistency”) and devoured. However, as Flo so rightly pointed out many moons ago, if someone told me that cayenne pepper and lemon would do me good I would devour it happily on a daily basis, such is my nutritional and gastronomic gullibility and optimistic vanity… (This was before that cayenne pepper diet thing did actually come into existence and sucked the thighs off various celebrities). So, Flo being a lucid creature and perfectly understanding this one of my many foibles, was of course right. Which means that I can’t quite leave my Frog-doctor breakfast there, but liberally sprinkle it with a powder I found in the supermarket here. If anyone could enlighten me what is actually is I’d be very grateful, as at the moment I’m merely chomping it on the advice of its “antioxidant” blurb on the packet: It’s called maça, and the picture on the packet looks like a mixture of garlic clove and turnip bulb…

Apologies for ending a food blog entry on a dietary note, but seeing as the pastels de Belén have taken over my waking hours, something needs to be done. 

Off for a glass of porto now. I’ve found that fantasising about recipes is quite a good way to get to sleep – a sort of culinary counting sheep… Counting cutlets perhaps… Does anyone else do that?

Kung Hei Fat Choy – Happy Chinese New Year!


The year of the Golden Dragon is upon us and last night, my friend Karen, cooked the most amazing meal to celebrate the Chinese new year.  I realise my first blog should probably start with food produced by yours truly, but as it was so very much enjoyed by yours truly, I thought this reason enough to mention here!  Besides, I was chief taster/deputy chief dishwasher and I did provide the pudding – although admittedly it wasn’t quite in keeping with the Chinese theme – but more on that later.

Karen produced the following menu – chicken gyozas (fried dumplings), crispy peking duck with pancakes and all the trimmings, sweet and sour prawns and chicken claypot served with egg fried rice. Delicious!

peking duck pre-shredding


My favourite course had to be the peking duck, cooked from scratch to perfection following Tim Hayward’s guidelines in the Guardian,  The duck was initially dunked 6 times in boiling water and white vinegar, after which its cavity was powdered with salt, star anis, szechuan pepper, cinnamon, ginger, orange peel and a couple of cloves.  The duck was then glazed with maltose, soy sauce and rice vinegar and hung upside down (to dry out the skin) for about 5 hours (assisted by a portable fan!) and then roasted for an hour and a half, before being shredded, wrapped and demolished! 

sweet and sour prawns

The sweet and sour prawns were stir fried with ginger, garlic, chilli, soy sauce, sesame oil, tomato puree, fish sauce, spring onion, red and yellow pepper, mangetout and baby sweetcorn.  

chicken claypot

For the chicken claypot, the chicken was marinated in hoi sin sauce, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, honey and sesame oil for 3-4 hours.  Shitake mushrooms, pak choi and chicken stock were then added to the chicken in the claypot which was then placed in the oven for an hour, gradually increasing the temperature to 160°C. 

Moving onto pud, I tried to find a nice traditional Chinese dessert recipe, but with no luck – not even Ken Hom was able to help!  I can only deduce that the Chinese are a very healthy lot, seemingly sticking mainly to fruit.  So, with a far more prodigious calorie count in mind, I plummed for pecan pie instead

pecan pie

This was a variation on Nigella’s “Pecan-Plus Pie” recipe which I’d tried out on the family over Christmas, see link  But this time, instead of using an assortment of different types of nuts as suggested, I stuck solely to pecans based on feedback from certain family members that the additional nuts were excessive. 

The best thing about Nigella’s recipe is the pastry – you just mix together plain flour, vegetable oil, salt and milk into a rough dough and press down into the pie dish with your hands and put the dish into the freezer – no rolling or blind baking required, phew! Whilst the pastry is doing its thing in the freezer, you crack on with making the caramel (melting butter, light brown sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan, adding vanilla extract and allowing to cool for 10 mins before whisking in the eggs).  

At this point, Nigella adds the mixed nuts to the pastry lined dish (removed from freezer), pours over the caramel and puts straight into the oven.  Instead, I mixed half of my pecans (chopped) into the caramel, poured this into the pastry and then arranged the remaining half (pecan halves) on top.  40 mins later at 180°C, a dollop of ice-cream and hey presto!

All in all a great night and a great way to welcome in the Chinese new year.  Mind you, I’m not too sure about the accuracy of the chinese fortune cookies predictions.  After slaving away over a hot stove and a dunking duck all day, Karen opened up her cookie to find the prediction “Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook”!

Love Anna xxx

Christmas pudding ate my Indian supper

OK, the Christmas pudding ate an orange. But we will get there in a minute.

It has been absolutely, bitterly, frostbitingly cold here this week. You may not be familiar with the physiological phenomenon that tells you the outside temperature without need for mercury, but here’s how it works: If you step outside and the moisture immediately creates delicate ice crystals on your indelicate nose hairs, it’s below 0F. Use it to your advantage, ladies.

We’ve had multiple nose-hair-freezing days recently and Madhur Jaffrey has been a good companion. Last night (-7F) we had another Indian feast using her At Home recipes: tomato pullao using tomatoes we froze from a nearby farm this summer, “chickpeas in a sauce” (she isn’t specific, and they were rather generic), and South Indian-style green beans.

The latter has become our go-to recipe over the past few months: boil the beans in salted water for a few mins, then fry up some mustard seeds, cumin seeds and sesame seeds in oil until the mustard seeds start popping. Add the beans. Once they’re warmed up and coated, add pinches of salt and cayenne. We froze lots of beans from our garden this summer and the recipe works fine with them, too – just defrost and skip the boiling part.

We also made a cauliflower dish described in the email that accompanies our weekly share from a local farm. Every Wednesday we get a bag of veg and a collection of “localvore” things – products grown and processed locally by other farmers and entrepreneurs, like bread, yoghurt, cheese, honey, popping corn, bags of wheat and dried beans. It’s like Christmas every Wednesday and takes the worst part of cooking out of the equation for me, which is planning out what to cook and then shopping for it. Lately they’ve been giving us various vegetables frozen at the farm in the summer; defrosted cauliflower was actually not the soggy mess you might expect.

All of this led up to the true highlight of the evening, which you see pictured here in all its puddingy glory: the Heston Blumenthal Christmas Pudding with a WHOLE ORANGE Inside, which Anna very kindly lugged over here for us back in October. (I shudder to think of Heston Blumenthal getting a Google Alert about his name appearing in a blog post in close proximity to the words “frozen cauliflower”.)

We steamed it in the pressure cooker for 1.5 hours (package said to steam for three):

Our squeamishness about eating something cooked in plastic aside (presumably all those sous-vide chefs do not share my plastic paranoia), it was utterly delicious. The box mysteriously warns you not to re-heat but I am guessing this was the UberChef’s attempt at quality control and not some terrible potential hazard to my health, so fully intend to enjoy it again today. With only one friend round for supper last night we still managed to devour half of it, so there’s not too much left to kill me.

Muchas gracias, Anna—what a treat to cheer up a frigid evening.



India in Vermont


Dear girls,
I agree it’s a tad unfortunate to launch this joint homage to cooking with a picture of what could conceivably be called sludge, but the pretentious photos I took of the plate with a bottle of vino and a candle burning in the background didn’t come out. At least we got some mood lighting in, and an artfully placed basil leaf.

It was -26C when we got up this morning and frost covered the electricity outlets inside the kitchen. (This may pose a hazard.) We begged Maddhur Jaffrey for comfort. The South Indian potato curry and red lentils with ginger that you see slopped before you were hot, spicy, and considerably more delicious than they looked. I would post the recipes here, but as Bill and I are almost entirely uncreative cooks, we followed them word for word and I worry Mrs. Jaffrey might hound her lawyers on me if I were to type them up and post them for the enormous readership of this blog to see. (Wherein lies a conundrum for a recipe-bound cooking blogger…)

The only thing we did that wasn’t in At Home with Madhur Jaffrey was make our own coconut milk for the potato curry. Miz, do you remember how they would make it in the Solomons? Everyone owned a chopping board with a sort of toothed blade sticking out of the end of it – you’d chop a coconut in half, place the chopping board on a bench, sit down straddling the board, and then scrape the inside of the coconut out using the blade. Women could turn an entire coconut into shavings in a matter of seconds. They’d add water to the shavings, let it sit for a bit, and then squeeze it out with their hands, leaving luscious coconut milk.

Bill and I did not do that.

We poured boiling water over desiccated coconut in a blender, let it sit for a few minutes, blended it for a minute, let it sit for a few more minutes, blended it again for 30 seconds and then strained it. It’s a good trick when you find yourself out of cans of coconut milk, though less helpful if you are also out of dessicated coconut. I got it from another of my favourite cookbooks, Lorna Sass’s Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure. One day soon I will introduce you to the wonder of Lorna Sass’s five-minute dishes—though I suppose it goes without saying that they will be as photogenic as today’s.

Flo xxx

Hi girls

Dear Anna, Hels, and Miriam,

There — I have achieved one of my New Year’s resolutions, which surely means I don’t have to do any of the others.

I will send you the log in details so you can add posts of your own.

Looking forward very much to hearing about your culinary adventures.



p.s. I can’t claim the wonderful “vegetable patch” at the right — it was one of the many unbelievably delicious dishes that Eleanore’s younger sister made for New Year’s supper. It was a many-course Heston Blumenthal feast, complete with homemade toffees in edible cellophane wrappers, and homemade ice cream cones with toffee ice cream and toffee sauce. Heck, I may as well post a photo of those, too.