Years ago I was asked by a friend who knew I took an interest in English food, if I ever ate ‘egg and beans on toast’. Her mother was British and she grew up eating them and had a certain fondness for them. I sheepishly answered in the negative. Though I had heard of them, never had it crossed my mind to actually make them. Then I did and now I’m hooked.
Cheap and easy, high in protein and fiber. Beans are poor man’s meat, sort of the western version of tofu. A healthy extender for small portions of meat or a substitute for meat all together. I have little patience for those who complain of want and don’t eat beans. Instead opting for the processed “foods” that swell their waist lines.
I grew up eating baked beans of course, but that isn’t quite the same is it. I mean American beans are sweet, sometimes sickly sweet. Sure the Heinz company is American and they only later opened their factory in Britain, but the British beans contain a lot of tomato and little sugar. Even Heinz’s American product the “Vegetarian Beans” use more sugar (corn syrup) than the British version. I would have to say the Campbell’s Pork and Beans are not too bad and probably, along with the economy brand Best Yet, are the most useable among the American brands (and I use them frequently enough). They still however, lack the savory tomato tang of the british version. The problem is, a tin of Heinz Beans, a paupers stable, is an expensive import in the US.
I suppose I should find it amusing that white beans and tomatoes, two plants indigenous to the Americas and packaged by an American company is a hard find in America, but very popular in the UK.
Now I can’t really afford to buy the British import and and all the American brands’ ingredients list run as such: Beans, Corn Syrup, then some where down the line they get to tomato. I don’t mind the pork, but come on, why the hell is there corn syrup in my beans. So if I don’t want really sweat beans I either go broke or make my own. Anyway off and running to find my own beans in tomato sauce recipe.
Oh wait I can’t find any….bloody hell. There are recipes for Italian beans in tomato sauce, not quite the same flavor. There are a ton of different recipes for Boston Baked Beans, from both sides of the pond (there seems to be a contest who can put the most sugar in them). But nothing really for plain ol’ beans in tomato sauce. So I looked through my oldest cookbooks, even read a chuck wagon bean recipe the National Parks had online. Thought this shouldn’t be too difficult just use an old recipe (or a combination), omit the bacon, and don’t use too much sugar.
Pull out the Lodge dutch oven (Buy American! Don’t complain about the Chinese or the government, if you don’t buy American it is your own damn fault) and soak some beans.
Round 1. Hmmm a little heavy on the tomato, can taste the molasses a little strong, and I cooked them a little long. The beans are a bit soft and a bit thick, but not a bad flavor. Quite good really. But not quite there.
Somewhere along the line I thought it foolish to completely replicate a mass market canned bean. That is just silly, I almost got caught up in that and forgot my idea was to get a simple, not overly sweet, yet tasty, tangy bean for my toast, breakfast, lunch, etc.
Round 2. Cut back on the tomato paste a little, switch to light brown sugar instead of molasses, adjust the seasoning, and use regular vinegar instead of malt. Cross fingers. Better, pretty good, maybe not an exact match, but close enough.
Now this is simple fair, not overly sweet, it is even vegetarian (it almost pains me to say) not like Boston Baked Beans which I like, don’t get me wrong.
- 1 lb dry navy beans, soaked and ready to go
- 3-4 T. of oil
- 2 medium onions, diced
- 4 oz. of tomato paste
- 1/4 c. of light brown sugar
- 1/2 T. english mustard
- 1/2 t. of paprika
- 1/2 t. of ground black pepper
- 1 t. of salt
- 1 T. of vinegar
- 5 c. water or broth
- Preheat the oven to 250 F. In a dutch oven over medium heat add 3 or 4 T of oil and the diced onions. Sweat the onions until they are translucent. Then add the tomato paste, cook for a couple minutes. Then add all the other ingredients, beans, and the water or broth and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Put the cover on the dutch oven and place the pan in the oven. Bake for 2 1/2 to 4 hours or more. Depending on how fast the beans cook and how soft you want them. Adjust the seasoning to your likening. (Thicken with a little starch and water if the beans are where you want them but the sauce is too thin for you)
So there you have it, a simple, not too terribly sweet mess of beans for your egg and beans on toast or as a side for lunch or dinner. Originally the Heinz beans had pork in them, it was taken out due to rationing in WWII and apparently never found its way back. Feel free to add salt pork or bacon if you like. Heck gussy them up as much you like.
If you really want to try and duplicate the Heinz beans, I would suggest, using onion powder, tomato sauce, that sort of thing. But I think I will stick with these.