A Diet of Baked Beans

A Diet of Baked Beans

From the ages of ten to sixteen, my parents sent me on séjours linguistiques (“linguistic stays”) abroad each summer. The idea was to spend two to three weeks living with a family in an English- or German-speaking country and immerse myself in the culture and the language. It did tremendously improve my language skills and was also, to put it mildly, a definite character-building experience: I was miserable, but I learned to put up with it.

This fascinating tidbit of personal history helps explain the special place Heinz Baked Beans have in my heart and on my palate: on one of these stays in England, I stayed with a family in which the girl, though my age, could not have had less in common with me. Her number one interest was boys; I was bookish and quiet. She had a brand new curvaceous body to try out; I still looked like a ten-year-old. With glasses. There was, consequently, little communication to be had between the two of us, but I learned my fair share of slang and swear words, and I also learned to fight in a foreign language. Add that to the “useful skills developed” list.

For some reason, there seemed to be precious few structured meals in that house, and since the girl could obviously not be counted on to feed me, I lived for three weeks on mini bags of salt and vinegar crisps, Branston pickle sandwiches, and baked beans on toast. And this diet, which would kill anybody but a pre-teen girl with a stomach of steel, left me with an eternal fondness for these three staples of English gastronomy.

In Paris, these products can only be found in gourmet stores, and I buy them from time to time when I feel the urge to reconnect with my younger self. I warm up half a can of baked beans and spread it on toasted slices of pain Poilâne as a special treat to the lonely but brave little girl I once was. Except now, I eat salad with that, too.

  • Clotilde, great post. Baked beans and crisps are one with the UK in my memory too.
    Just a little addition to your comment on your baked peans/pickles/crisps diet: older people can survive on it too. Especially PhD students with 5 quid in their pocket and still a week to go to the next scholarship check ;-)… although I’m more of a cheese and onion than salt and vinegar crisp guy…

  • Alberto – funny you had the same kind of gastronomic experience! Did you miss your family and cry on your pillow, too? :)

  • baked beans on toast! not exactly my favourite but it was for my sister. she loves it so much that she can eat it for days. used to have it growing up as a child.

    nowadays, granny does a quick chicken with baked beans dish. all she does is fry the chicken and then add in the baked beans. quick stir and it’s done. :)

  • Amy

    Before this post I thought only Americans ate baked beans. In fact, I have 3 big cans in my pantry right now (they come in different flavors like cumin and spicy varieties) Now I can try it on toast, never had it that way before :) I think all the foods I’m eating in college are becoming my foods-emotional-ties. hehe.

  • Clotilde,

    First of all, let me say: great post. However, for the life of me, I cannot imagine eating baked beans on toast. I don’t even want to imagine it. I’ll eat bat meat, though! ;)

    However, I don’t really like baked beans much, so that might be the cause of it. Wow… someone’s gotta buy a British cookbook now, hm?

  • Clotilde,

    I did miss my family, at least to some extent, but instead of crying in my pillow I had food dreams ;-)), pizza, rich pasta dishes, pork roast and so on. I also cursed myself for moving in a country where everything is so expensive!!

  • Funny how baked beans seem to belong to that category of food that noone is indifferent to : you either love it and have it obsessively for days on end (to ghastly gastric consequences), or hate it and can’t even bear the thought of them!

    The only variety I have had (or seen) is in tomato sauce, but cumin sounds good! I’ve mixed it with ground beef too, for a yummy result, the special kind of comfort food you can eat from a cereal bowl in front of the telly!

  • Renee

    oh yes, I remember eating baked beans on toast in boarding school!
    now I sometimes have the baked beans sauteed with egg – sort of half scramble the egg, and when they are not quite done yet, dump in the baked beans.
    haven’t had baked beans in a while… hmmm… maybe time to revisit some teenage memories?! : )

  • Renee – Mmm… Scrambled eggs and baked beans… It sounds good, I’ll try that next time!

  • Sylvie

    Etonnant, comme ces baked beans ne laissent personne indifférent ! Moi, leur simple odeur me donnait la nausée ! peut-être que maintenant, ce serait aussi ma madeleine de mes séjours linguistiques.
    J’espère que personne ne va se reconnaitre dans ta description de la jeune anglaise chez qui tu étais ! oh, après tout, si elle se reconnait, tant mieux ! bisous, Maman

  • Miles Walker

    I was looking to buy heinz or hp baked beans and came across your comments what great comfort food they are….. at the side of the toast……..so it does not go soggy…… also they make the best fast food ever with one tablespoon of pataks mild korma curry paste per can……..In canada our government is happily banning the sale of english baked beans…….. they DO THIS ITS SOMEONE JOB!!!……… because the labels do not conform to there labellibng laws ……which has left thousands of us desperate to buy them from outside the country

  • Valérie

    I’m happy to find that someone else is that crazy of baked beans!
    For the time I stayed in London (1 year..) they helped me so much (Yes I did cry on my pillow ) when I was missing France.
    But now I’m back at home and I miss this little beans, so if someone know a place where to buy them near Paris, please tell me!
    It’s really astonishing to see how they’re addictive! (What did they put inside???)
    I tried to buy some French tomato white beans and put ketchup in, but it was…hurkk…awful..
    So please help.

  • Valérie – You can buy Heinz baked beans in some Monoprix, but also at Lafayette Gourmet or La Grande Epicerie de Paris…

  • Yum.. baked beans on toast. That’s one comfort food we have in common! However, my combination has a little something extra that gives it an added oomph: crispy crunchy toast + gooey tomatoey beans + eggy runny yolk = delish!
    Yep, try with sunny-side-up. Make sure the egg white is fried enough to have crispy sides for that ‘bite’..but the yolk’s runny enough for the toast to soak up all its goodness.

  • Jo

    I have been completely taking baked beans for granted (just ate some half an hour ago). We get them in every supermarket here and you see it everywhere, it’s such a common sight. I better start loving baked beans!

  • Skip Tracer

    Baked beans and biscuits (scones?) are a New England staple, every Saturday night we’d have them. The tradition continues, we walk down to the In-law’s house every Saturday and have baked beans, fresh from the oven. The beans come from a local farm, and the pork and onion from us.

    Sometimes we bake the beans in the ground, the old-fashioned way.

  • Tim Quinn

    Heinz baked beans are great over toast ! I usually chop up some onion and a little dash of texas pete in them too

  • miss dipsy

    There is a difference in what an american person means by “baked beans” and the traditional british staple, which is epitomised by Heinz Baked Beans. This is really just beans in a tomato sauce flavoured with vinegar, sugar, salt, herbs & spices, and thickened with cornflour, and only ever comes in a tin (can). The sauce has no discernable texture, it’s just beans in orange gloop. I think it’s pretty rare for an english person to make their own baked beans! Although people do often try to “spice up” the tinned version by adding various extras. I often add pesto, cheese & a tin of chopped tomatoes, which makes it go a lot further, and gives the illusion of it being “proper food”. But there is nothing quite like plain old beans on toast for simple, quick, pure comfort food!

  • Mychael

    This past weekend,while in a pub in Pittsburgh, PA, I was served what was called ‘London Breakfast’. It consisted of baked beans, eggs fried sunny side up, and sauteed cherry tomatoes, all served over toast. I have never been one to eat baked beans and was surprised to find this combination sublime!

  • Clotilde, HP beans are sooo much better than heinz! (treason I know). I love them with cheese melted on top, or sometimes on top of cheese on toast. Either way, the bread must be granary and the toast must be buttered if there isn’t any cheese to be had.

    I also like adding dried herbs, chillis and creme fraiche, with lots of black pepper to make a really lovely lunch.

  • Ann

    I find one crucial element of baked-beans-on-toast (which I encountered, and adopted, during my 1 year living in the UK for university) that nobody’s mentioned is the fact that the toast needs to be buttered. I don’t butter anything, but there’s something about that creamy underlayer that makes the most ordinary elements rich and delish.

    Fun site.

  • Heinz… HP… well… Does anyone know a recipe for baked beans? I mean real BAKED BEANS not “cassoulet” ou “haricots blancs à la provençale”!
    If I had a recipe I could adapt it to my taste – and to my weast! – putting it less sugar, less starch.

  • Sorry, two mistakes in my message:
    “put IN less sugar”…
    Sans my email : pj.michall@gmail.com

  • tenakalaz

    mmmmmmmm baked beans…..

    As a brit living abroad along with salt and vinegar crisps its one of those things you don’t miss till someone reminds you.

    The baked beans are fine here in holland, but finding salt and vinegar crisps (the right ones that is) makes you feel like a junkie, asking friends, hearing a whisper about a pack of smiths salt and vinegar squares somewhere in Amsterdam.

    I have to say though, not often you hear someone other than a brit loving beans on toast and that brought a smile to my face, the dutch hate them, I am quite sure I am the only on in my village that buys them (otherwise no bacon and baked bean rolls :)) and as a tip to you, net time, pop the plate back under the grill, with some grated cheddar!!

  • Phil Atkinson

    Good grief! Are you people aware that you are committing gastonomic heresy by praising English food? ;o)

    I love baked beans!

  • Zowie

    Baked Beans recipe:
    3 tbsp Olive oil
    3 medium Onions, chopped
    4 garlic cloves, chopped
    2 tsp Paprika
    1/2 tsp ground cloves
    3 heaped tbsp tomato ketchup
    250ml passata
    300ml water
    2 cans haricot beans, rinsed and drained
    1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
    1 tsp soft brown sugar


    1. Heat the oil in a large ovenproof pan. Add the onions and garlic and fry until soft and golden. Sprinkle over the paprika and ground cloves and cook for 1 minute then stir through the ketchup.

    2. Add the passata and water and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes before liquidizing until smooth.

    3. Pre-heat oven to 150C/gas 2.

    4. Add the beans, Worcestershire sauce and sugar to the tomato sauce. Season with salt. Stir well and bring back to the boil.

    5. Put on a lid and transfer to the oven for 1 hour 30 minutes. Stir in some boiling water before serving if the beans are a bit dry.

    I love beans on toast! Im british so its something i was bought up on!

  • thank you for the recipe.

    As a Brit in Argentina, I REALLY miss UK-style baked beans

  • Marie

    I want to reiterate what Miss Dipsy mentioned about American baked beans and British baked beans being different. As an American in England for a year, I discovered beans and toast and loved it. Once back home, I whipped it up one day. Not good. (I think American baked beans are sweeter?) Though now I’m wondering if I could get Heinz baked beans here and if they are the same as the British ones…

  • Nabela

    Being a British transplant in America, I find that Heinz baked beans are very similar in taste and texture to what the Americans think of as Pork ‘n’ Beans. Baked beans here in the US often include more spices, brown sugar, onions, sometimes even barbecue sauce and other seasonings. My husband teases me about the traditional English breakfast of beans, toast, fried eggs, and grilled tomatoes. He just doesn’t know what he’s missing. ;-)

  • I have to agree with the others regarding American baked beans. They are definitely NOT the same as Heinz baked beans found in the UK. I love, love, love Heinz baked beans on buttered toast or as part of a full English breakfast with sauteed mushrooms, eggs, veg sausage, the works! I absolutely do not like American baked beans. They are usually made with brown sugar, maple syrup or some sort of other type of sweetener and have a completely different taste/texture. I would never be able to tolerate them for breakfast, but Heinz baked beans hit the spot for a meal or snack any time of the day.

Get the newsletter

Receive FREE email updates with all the latest recipes, plus exclusive inspiration and Paris tips. You can also choose to be notified when a new post is published.

View the latest edition of the newsletter.