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The Flat Cap on ... Baked Beans

This morning The Flat Cap woke up later than usual. He was therefore in a bit of a hurry and couldn’t be bothered cooking himself something to eat. So he visited the modest sized café near where he lives and ordered a full English breakfast and a pot of tea from Ivy the proprietor. Ivy began running the café after her husband lost his job at the local branch of BHS. As well as cooking meals Ivy also makes her own sandwiches and fruit pies. Some of the local pubs do an all day breakfast, but they’re not as good as Ivy’s. The best bit about the meal was the baked beans, and this got The Flat Cap thinking more about how good they taste. So he decided to find out more about them, and how they came to be such a favourite food.

The first thing he learned about baked beans is that, despite their name, they’re not actually baked but steamed or stewed in a tomato and sugar based sauce. The second thing he learned was that the beans are haricot beans, and they in turn are sometimes known as navy beans. This is because they were a staple of U.S. Navy rations throughout the nineteenth century. Being cooped up on a ship with dozens of bean eating sailors during the 1800s couldn’t have been a pleasant experience and The Flat Cap reckons the smell below decks would have killed his appetite for a full English breakfast, or indeed any other meal choice. Baked beans are great, and unlike lots of other vegetables they lose none of their nutritional value when canned. If you’re in a real rush you can always eat them cold, and they still taste ok.

The beans presently used to make baked beans are all native to South America and were probably introduced to Europe during the sixteenth century after explorers went looking for new and interesting things to bring home off their travels. One explorer, Sir Walter Raleigh brought back the potato and tobacco to England to try and win royal favours. Alas all his exploring and gift ideas failed to keep him in the king’s good books and he was executed in 1618. Had he brought back baked beans instead of tobacco maybe it would have been different.

Nowadays baked beans are enjoyed by everyone, but it wasn’t always the case. The first baked beans to hit UK shores were imported from the U.S.A. in 1886 and sold in the upmarket people’s store Fortnum & Mason. Only rich people could afford them and a tin cost the equivalent of two weeks wages for a street cleaner or farm labourer. Queen Victoria’s eldest son Prince Albert Edward (who later became King Edward VII) loved beans on toast. However the baked beans used to give him terrible wind. One day at the royal dinner table Edward farted rather loudly and his mum rebuked him with the words, “we are not amused”. Other historical accounts suggest the monarch had said it as a put down to an equerry who told a rather too risqué story over dinner at Windsor Castle. Whatever the source of the quote it is true that baked beans can give you flatulence. This is why you seldom see beans on toast served to other heads of state at royal dinner parties.

The most popular brand of baked beans in the UK today is made by the H. J.Heinz Company. Their factory near Wigan, Lancashire produces more than one billion cans of food a year; and a lot of those cans contain baked beans. In 1967 the company began promoting its product with the slogan “Beanz Meanz Heinz”. So successful was the phrase that in 2008 the beans were relabelled “beanz”, and that is how they are still described today. The slogan was the brainchild of advertising executive Maurice Drake whose cousin, Charlie Drake enjoyed a successful television career as a slapstick comedian, singer, actor and writer. It is not known if Maurice ever wrote jokes or songs for his cousin.

Whilst paying for his breakfast The Flat Cap complimented Ivy on her baked beans, and after thanking him for a generous tip she volunteered the following baked bean related facts and trivia:

  • Originally tins of baked beans contained a small piece of pork. This practice was discontinued during the Second World War when pork had to be rationed

  • On average a medium sized tin contains 387 baked beans

  • For a bet Ken Russell got actress Ann-Margret to swim around in baked beans as part of his 1975 film Tommy

  • In the mid 1990s a supermarket price war broke out in the UK with some selling tins of baked beans for as little as 3p

  • In the film Blazing Saddles baked beans are the cause of audible flatulence – a movie first

  • Ivy’s husband’s favourite beans joke is - “What type of beans do cannibals eat? Answer - human beans”

  • Legendary British rockers The Who released an album in 1967 entitled The Who Sell Out. It featured lead singer Roger Daltrey on the cover, photographed sitting in a bath of cold baked beans. As well as looking a bit bemused Daltrey later reported the beans had caused him pneumonia

  • The UK gets through two thousand tonnes of baked beans every year

  • It takes two slices of bread to make proper beans on toast

  • The recipe for the Heinz baked beans sauce is top secret

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