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Baked beans: The story FOOD & COOKING

Baked beans have become a beloved dish in many countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, but their origins can be traced back to ancient civilisations. This article will explore the history of baked beans, from their ancient roots to their modern day popularity.

Ancient Origins

Beans are one of the oldest cultivated crops in the world, and they have been used for thousands of years as a staple food source. Archaeological evidence shows that beans were first cultivated in Peru around 5,000 BC, and they quickly spread throughout South and Central America. Native American tribes in what is now the United States were also growing beans for food by the time of the arrival of European settlers.

In ancient Rome, beans were considered a food of the poor, and they were often cooked with pork fat or other fatty meats to make them more palatable. It is believed that the dish "fabada asturiana," a Spanish stew made with white beans, chorizo sausage and other meats, is a descendant of these ancient Roman bean dishes.

Colonial America

Beans were a staple food in colonial America, and they were often cooked with pork to create a hearty, nutritious meal. Baked beans, in particular, became popular in New England during the Seventeenth century. The Puritans, who were among the first European settlers in the region, brought with them a tradition of baking beans on Saturday night, so they would have a ready-made meal for Sunday.

Baked beans were made by slow-cooking dried beans in a clay pot with molasses, salt pork and other ingredients. The resulting dish was sweet, savoury and filling, and it quickly became a popular dish throughout the region. Baked beans were also a staple food for soldiers during the American Revolution, as they were easy to prepare and could be made in large quantities.

Industrial Revolution

The invention of canning in the early Nineteenth century revolutionised the food industry, and it also had a significant impact on the popularity of baked beans. In 1867, the first commercial canning factory in the United States was opened in Massachusetts, and one of its primary products was baked beans.

Canned baked beans quickly became a popular food for working-class families, as they were convenient, nutritious and inexpensive. By the turn of the Twentieth century, baked beans had become a standard item in many American pantries, and they were often served as a side dish with ham or other pork products.

Modern-Day Baked Beans

Today, baked beans are enjoyed in many parts of the world, and there are countless variations of the dish. In the United States, Boston-style baked beans, which are made with navy beans, molasses and salt pork, are still a popular dish, especially in New England.

In the United Kingdom, baked beans are typically served on toast for breakfast, and they are a staple food for students and others on a tight budget. British baked beans are made with haricot beans, tomato sauce, and a sweetened sauce made from sugar, molasses, and spices.

Baked beans have a long and fascinating history, and they have evolved over time to become a beloved dish in many cultures. From their ancient roots in Peru to their modern-day popularity in the United States and United Kingdom, baked beans have played a significant role in the diets and traditions of people around the world.

"Bean-Feast" by John Greenleaf Whittier

"The Bean-Feast" is a poem written by John Greenleaf Whittier, an American poet and abolitionist, and was first published in 1858. "The Bean-Feast" is a lighthearted poem that celebrates the tradition of the bean-feast, a communal meal where a dish made from beans is the main course.

A festal day, a warm summer day,
A scent of hay and thyme;
The orchards and the meadows gay,
The breezes’ balmy chime.

Here’s to the beans, with a hiss and a roar,
And a fragrance that fills the house;
Here’s to the beers, like a foamy white shore,
And the jolly and bonny old spouse.

Here’s to the table, with its snowy spread,
And the viands that we relish so well;
Here’s to the cup, with its frothing head,
And the good health that it is sure to tell.

Here’s to the friends, who are gathered to share
The pleasures of this bean-feast day;
Here’s to the flag, with its stars so fair,
And the country for which it waves so gay.

Here’s to the past, with its memories bright,
And the future, as fair and free;
Here’s to our homes, with their love-light,
And the hopes that are built upon thee!

John Greenleaf Whittier

A classic baked bean recipe


2 cans of haricot beans (drained and rinsed)
1 onion (finely chopped)
1 garlic clove (crushed)
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
3 tbsp tomato ketchup
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp English mustard
2 tbsp black treacle
1 tsp smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste


  • Preheat your oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

  • Heat some oil in a pan and sauté the onion and garlic until softened and fragrant.

  • Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, English mustard, black treacle and smoked paprika. Stir well and let it cook for 5 minutes.

  • Add the haricot beans to the pan and stir until they are coated with the sauce.

  • Pour the mixture into an ovenproof dish and bake for 30 - 40 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and the beans are hot and bubbly.

  • Serve the baked beans hot with some crusty bread, sausages or bacon.

Enjoy your classic baked beans!

David Jenkins

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