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Lifting the Lid on Baked Beans

In the US, July is recognised as Baked Bean Month, so let us take you through the history of this everyday staple and give you some suggestions of how to liven them up.Did you know that despite their status on these shores as a national treasure, the baked bean actually originated from the USA? There are two alternate origin theories: the first is that the savoury-sweet dish we are familiar with is descended from a Native American recipe, in which beans were cooked in fat & maple syrup.

The second is that the haricot bean, most commonly used in our tinned variety, was brought to American shores by French explorers and today’s recipe is an evolution of their classic bean stew, a cassoulet. These recipes have evolved into home-cooked favourites such as Boston Baked Beans, a slow cooked dish which includes molasses and bacon.

However, the man who really put the baked bean on the map was the American entrepreneur Henry Heinz. In 1901 he launched Heinz Baked Beans, which were first sold over here in the specialty food store Fortnum and Mason as an exotic product. This is a far cry from today, where half-empty bean cans fill the fridges of student houses across the length and breadth of the country. However, the production of the product has changed relatively little in the meantime; raw beans and tomato sauce are sealed in tins and cooked in large pressure cookers, giving the sauce its distinctive thick consistency.

The baked bean soon became a staple after arriving on our shores. During the Second World War Heinz Beans were particularly important in feeding the country due to their low value and long shelf life, to the extent that the main UK production factory was bombed several times. Rationing altered the original Heinz recipe to make it more economical; a small piece of pork was previously included in each tin as an homage to the Boston Baked Bean recipe. Today, baked beans are still synonymous with value and convenience. In fact, in the 1990’s supermarkets were selling tins of their own brand variety for just 3p! Who knew there was so much history crammed into each of those cans?

images-4Here are a few ideas on how to get those culinary juices flowing and big up the baked bean!

1) The ultimate beans on toast: fried bread, topped with beans, cheese, and bacon, grilled for a few minutes. A coronary bypass has never tasted so good.

2) Substitute kidney beans for baked beans in your Mexican chilli recipe. Great for kids.

images-73) Stew beans with browned sausages, mushrooms, onions, tinned tomatoes and your choice of seasoning for a new take on the classic fry up. Sprinkle with cheese, live a little.

4) Whisk some beans and bacon pieces into scrambled eggs or an omelette for a tasty breakfast alternative.

5) Baked Bean Potato Skins. Step One: Scoop out the cooked potato and mix with mayonnaise, cheese, beans and chives. Step Two: Fill the skins and bake. Step Three: Apply to face.

By James Butler