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I grew up in England on Heinz baked beans. Seriously. My mother fed us fish fingers and baked beans so often that my dad ended up asking for something different. My son has also grown up on them, thankfully in combination with a more varied diet – and this underscores his British heritage, as it is not something his friends eat much at all.

Apparently a continuous diet of baked beans may not be the worst thing you could have – in 2002 the British Dietetic Association allowed manufacturers of canned baked beans to advertise the product as contributing to the recommended five daily allowance of vegetables per person. According to an odd video from 1986 called Baked Bean Junkie Gross-out, it might even present possibilities as a cure for drug addiction:

Either way, this dish is the Kraft dinner of starving UK artists, students and squatters. And are a significant ingredient in the Great British Breakfast! But baked beans did not originate in the UK. It seems they may have been popularized in the US – New England and Boston (otherwise known as Beantown) in particular – based on either European (the Italians love their beans!) or Native American cuisine. As there are few 19th century US cookbooks, this question remains open – comments welcome!

Baked beans have made their way into pop culture via songs such as the Who’s song “Heinz Baked Beans” on the 1967 album The Who Sell Out. The bean can may also have had particular significance for Warhol, although he did not portray it, preferring Campbell’s soup for his canned goods art. According to Siena Miller, who interviewed his mother for her screen portrayal of Edie Sedgwick, “She used to feed him baked beans and, in every cupboard, there were rows and rows of beans. I think that inspired him. He got inspiration from a lot of the mundane.”

the who sell out album front


Most commercial canned baked beans are made from haricot beans, also known as navy beans – a variety of Phaseolus vulgaris – in a sauce. In the UK it’s tomato; in the US, Boston baked beans use a sauce made from pork and molasses. Maine and Quebec-style beans often use maple syrup. In Montreal they are known as “les beans”, pronounced “bin” and there are cafes dedicated to them.

But there are substantial differences between the Heinz baked beans sold in the UK and the nearest equivalent US product. The US beans contain brown sugar where the British beans do not, and contains a total of 14g of sugar per can compared to 7g for the British version. The US beans are also mushier and darker in colour than their UK counterpart.

Heinz Beans were first sold in the UK in the upmarket Fortnum & Mason store in London as an exotic import at a high price. Their 1960s advertisement campaign used the slogan “Beanz Meanz Heinz.” It speaks to the power of advertising that the jingle is still stuck in my head, 40 years later!

For me, serving baked beans involves heating a can of beans (preferably Heinz), and pouring them over well-buttered toast, then sprinkling them liberally with grated cheddar. But if you want to make your own before serving, here’s how – this recipe makes the US version (I don’t think there’s a recipe for the UK beans – no-one there has ever wanted to eat them any other way than out of the can!):

beans on toast




1 lb. dried Navy or small white beans

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 large onions, sliced

pinch of cayenne pepper

1 bay leaf

3/4 lb. slab bacon or lean salt pork

1/4 cup unsulphured molasses

1/4 cup ketchup

2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1/8 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. dry English mustard

2 tbsp. brown sugar


Wash 1 pound dried white (Navy or pea) beans. Pick over and remove any stones or debris. Bring to a boil and boil rapidly for 2 minutes. Turn off heat and let beans soak for 1 hour. Alternatively, simply soak the beans in cold water overnight (no need to boil).

Add to saucepan, minced garlic, sliced onion, cayenne, bay leaf, and the slab of bacon or salt pork (in one piece).

Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook, covered, until beans are almost tender.

Remove bacon, drain, reserving 1 1/2 cups liquid. To the liquid add molasses and ketchup, salt, Worcestershire, black pepper, dry mustard (and if you like onion, add an extra onion, minced, or 1/2 tsp. onion powder).

Put beans into a 2-quart casserole or bean pot. Pour liquid mixture over the beans. Cut the bacon or salt pork into strips 1/4-inch thick and arrange over the beans. Sprinkle the bacon and beans with 2 tbsp. brown sugar.

Bake, uncovered, in a preheated 400F oven for 1 1/4 hours.

Serve with steamed kielbasa or smoked sausage and ketchup on the side.

british breakfast with baked beans


Bon appetit!


A few years ago I spent six weeks backpacking around Cuba and another four weeks in south and central Mexico.  The pot of beans on the stove was ubiquitous in both places. In Cuba, the beans are cooked in a pressure cooker to reduce cooking time and therefore cooking fuel.  Beans are an integral part of the diet in both places for largely economic reasons but the result of this necessity are regionally specific cuisines packed full of flavour.  Here in Canada, beans, for the most part have been relegated to occasional side dish.  Often it is the overdressed three-bean salad at a buffet table or a bowl of baked beans at a barbeque restaurant.  Beans have become a bit of a relic of bygone days unless they are a curiosity at a Mexican restaurant.

I am glad to say that around my place no one has to tell me to eat my beans.  We eat them in salads, soups, and hashes.  I bake them, boil them and refry them.  I thought I should take a picture of some of the beans in my pantry for this blog.  I found ten different kinds… I’m out of red lentils.  I admit I don’t dwell on the subtle distinctions of growing region and time to maturation between peas and beans.  They’re all legumes to me.  I grew up on split pea soup and baked beans.  I added cassoulet, black bean soup, Jamaican rice and peas, and chana masala later.  The recipe list keeps getting longer and the part of my pantry reserved for beans keeps getting larger.

Back Row - Green Lentils, Pinto Beans, Navy Beans, Yellow Split Peas, Red Kidney Beans, Black Turtle Beans - Front Row - White Kidney Beans, Chickpeas, Pigeon Peas

Despite the many recipes that come to mind for beans, I was faced with a challenge for this blog.  Months ago Eva said that she would never find a satisfactory baked bean recipe given her aversion to pork.  I argued that it was really the fat and the smoke that mattered and that porkless baked beans could be good.  Today I test the theory.

The recipe below is my family recipe.  I’ve been eating these beans for as long as I can remember and this is the flavour that I measure all other baked beans against.  I used the same recipe with one exception.  Instead of bacon or a smoked hock I added a smoked turkey drumstick to the pot.

Beans, onions, mustard, pepper and turkey ready for the oven.

Baked Beans

  • 1 pound small white beans, soaked all day or overnight
  • 1 medium onions, diced
  • 1 lb bacon diced *
  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 6 cups water *
  • 1/3 cup fancy (light) molasses
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • salt


1 ½ lb smoked pork hocks and 9 cups water, or to cover

Rinse, drain and pick over beans. Place beans in large pot covered with at least 2 inches of cold water overnight.

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Drain beans thoroughly and return to pot.  Add onion, bacon, mustard and pepper. Cover and bake 3 hours, stirring every hour.

Add molasses and brown sugar and bake for another 2 hours.  Uncover beans and bake an additional 30 minutes.

Salt to taste.

To substitute smoked pork hock for bacon:

Put hocks in deep pot or soup kettle covered with water. Heat to boil and reduce to simmer.  Cook, covered for about 3 hours until meat begins to fall off bones.  Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate, uncovered, overnight.  Remove fat congealed on top. Remove ham hocks from liquid; discard bones, skin and fat. Shred meat and reserve liquid for beans.

Now, Eva hasn’t tasted the smoked turkey beans yet, but I believe she will be as pleased as I am.  The beans were pretty close to the original and that without adding a bunch of fat.  My bean makeover is smoky, meaty and I think would get past any critic.  I would absolutely use the turkey substitution again!

Dark, rich, smokey and sweet with plenty of chunks of turkey.

I know that you are going to read about baked beans again later this month so I have included my favourite Black Bean Soup recipe for good measure.

Slow-Cooker Black Bean Soup

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 medium red onions, diced
  • 1 medium red bell peppers, diced
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 pound dried black beans
  • 1 chopped canned chipotle chilli
  • 7 cups water
  • juice of one lime
  • salt to taste, about 2 teaspoons
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Sauté onions and both bell peppers until slightly browned. Add garlic and cumin and sauté for about a minute more. Transfer mixture to slow cooker.

Add beans and chipotles and water. Cover and cook on high until beans are very tender, about 6 hours.

Puree soup in blender or with immersion blender until smooth.

Season with lime juice, salt, and pepper.

Bon appétit,


It’s Bean Day, also National Shortbread Day (are you kidding?? In JANUARY???).  The problem is, I’m from Alberta.  And despite everything I’ve told you, about shameless bacon eaters and the like, I believe that beans are best served as baked beans.  With pork.  You heard me.

You know how I feel about pork, you shameless bacon eaters.  I think it’s disgusting.  But, but, I understand the porky allure of baked beans.  Just can’t eat ‘em.

I was sitting in a pub tonight, watching the tragic World Juniors 2010 game between Canada and U.S.

You know if I say “tragic,” we didn’t win.

* sigh*

I even wore my Team Canada jersey.

* sigh *

Jim says we (Canada) played a better game than the U.S.  Hint to husbands, boyfriends, and sports fans everywhere.  If I put on the jersey, leave work early, and meet you at the pub, do not, do not talk down to me, tell me how it is, use a condescending tone, or otherwise make me feel unworthy when I venture a comment about the game.  I may very well wipe the floor with your face.


Nonetheless, Della was there too, and I proposed to her my idea that beans are best baked with pork.  And she said, “well, actually, with fat.”  And I was all, “hmmm, but really rich fat, so, like, chicken fat wouldn’t do.”  And then it dawned on me.

Duck fat baked beans. OH. MY. GOD.

Della has leftover duck fat from Champagne, Duck and Oyster day.  She has also taken this as a throwdown, and has resolved to prove to me that baked beans do not require pork to be tasty.

Me?  I’m all in.  Bring it on (please?)

In the meantime, for your dining pleasure:

“White” Navy Bean and Chicken Chili

  • 1 ½ C dried navy beans
  • 1 lb extra-lean ground chicken
  • 1 ½ Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 1 rib celery, finely diced
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled & grated
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp (hot) smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 C chicken stock (approx)
  • 1 tsp dried epazote or oregano
  • 1 tsp ground coriander seed
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 28-oz can tomatillos, drained & chopped
  • ⅓ C pickled jalapenos, diced
  • 1 red and 1 yellow pepper, finely diced
  • cheddar, green onions, cilantro, lime wedges, Liberty yoghurt
  1. In a medium pot, cover the navy beans with 4 C cold water and bring to boil over high heat.  Remove from heat immediately, cover, and set aside for 1 hour.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the onion, celery, carrot and garlic.  Sauté until the onions are translucent, then add the ground chicken, stirring rapidly to break it apart.

    Add the smoked paprika

  3. Season with smoked paprika and salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until browned.
  4. Deglaze with 1/2 C of the chicken stock, scraping the bottom of the pan to pick up all of those delicious browned bits on the bottom.  Pour into a slow cooker or a large stock pot.
  5. Drain the beans, and add them to the chicken.  Add enough chicken stock to cover the beans (approximately1 ½ cups more).  Add the epazote or oregano, coriander and cumin.
  6. I suggest using a slow cooker for this part; then you can just walk away.  If using a slow cooker, cook on high heat 2-3 hours or until beans are softened.  A stock pot will also work just fine; you just have to stir from time to time: cook on medium-low 1-2 hours or until beans are softened.
  7. Only when beans are the correct consistency, add tomatillos, pickled jalapenos and diced peppers.  Cook another 1-1 ½ hours or until thickened. (Here’s the deal: dried beans have much more texture than canned.  They should have a firm “bite”, without being crunchy. One step more than al dente. Here’s another deal: do not add anything acidy, like vinegar, molasses, lime juice, etc., OR salt, until the beans are cooked.  If you add acid or salt, the beans won’t soften. This means you can cook them for days and they’ll still be crunchy.  Uck. I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation for this, isn’t there Janelle?)
  8. Serve with shredded cheddar, green onions, cilantro, lime wedges, and Liberty yoghurt, if desired.

If you can't find tomatillos, use tomatoes. Tomatillos are tangy-er but really, it's all about the simmer (just don't add them too soon)!

No duck fat, but tasty nonetheless.  Jim and I had chili for dinner, then for lunch the next day.  I served it with a yummy beer oat bread (good use of leftover beer from book club “beer tasting” night).

xx Eva