About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Baked beans and dandelion fritters

It may be perverse to make such a notoriously cheap product as baked beans - the ingredients really aren't much cheaper than buying the finished product - unless, of course, I grow them myself. To find out whether it's worth growing the beans, though, I first wanted to check that I can make an acceptable version of baked beans. I'm not thinking I'll be able to match Heinz exactly - their competitors have demonstrated how difficult this is - but I'd like to think I can get somewhere near. At any rate, I should be able to do better than the lads on The Boat that Guy Built.

Too much salt.

We're loving this programme, by the way. If it's still on iPlayer, go and check it out. I can't help wondering why they made such a ridiculous hash of the baked bean recipe. Two possibilities come to mind, and both spring from a deep well of cynicism:
  1. The researchers called the press office at Heinz to ask for help with the programme and the reply was not only a refusal of help but, ... and if you even attempt to show people how to make baked beans, we'll sue you!
  2. No-one working on the programme had any faith in Guy's ability to make a tin that would keep food fresh, so they added stupid amounts of salt to make absolutely sure there'd be no mould when they opened the tin up.
I'd had a couple of attempts to cook the beans before, firstly in an American baked beans recipe, which is not the same as the stuff we get in tins, and secondly as an ingredient in stew. Dried beans take a really long time to cook! The first time, I couldn't believe they really took that long, so that was a bit of a failure. I cooked them long enough the second time and that attempt was deemed a success, so I was ready to try for the big one: Imitation Heinz beans.

So how does one go about finding this closely guarded recipe? In fact, the ingredients list and nutritional information on the tin give quite a lot of clues.
  1. Beans (51%) - so we're aiming for half and half beans and sauce.
  2. Tomatoes (34%) - so tomatoes make up two thirds of the sauce. I'll assume the rest is water, as none of the other ingredients are very large contibutors.
  3. Salt equivalent 0.7g per 100g - that's really not very much. I'll use a pinch of salt.
  4. Total sugar 5g per 100g - that's quite a lot. It's not, OMG I can't believe how much sugar they put in this! lots, but a fair bit.
  5. Cornflour is further down the list, i.e. less, than sugar. Well I could have guessed that.
  6. Ascorbic acid is further down the list than salt. I know this is a preservative, but it's bound to affect the flavour, so I'd better have some acid in there.
From here on, there was a lot of weighing involved. I'd soaked the beans overnight, so their soaked weight was the starting point I had to fit everything else around. Life would have been easier if I'd soaked a few more beans. The first stages were easy enough - cook tomatoes with extra water, push through seive, add cornflour to thicken, add sugar and salt (I used celery salt) in quantities dictated by label. For the acid, I used half and half white wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar, because I'd seen someone recommend the latter. Both bottles stated, 6% acid so I took that to be 6% of something equivalent to the ascorbic acid in the ingredients list, and worked out the quantity from that.

At this point I got to the difficult, secret recipe bit, where the ingredients list just says, herb extracts and spice extracts. I added a pinch of mustard powder, a small sprinkle of pepper, and tasted. It was far too sweet and sour - mostly sweet. I added another pinch each of celery salt and mustard, but that didn't help much and I didn't dare add more. I tried a few drops of Worcester sauce, because I'd seen that recommended, but that really wasn't what I needed.

Casting around for what I could possibly use to balance the sugar and vinegar, I realised the answer was right in front of me - the perfect flavour was in the cooking water from the beans. What I need is bean flavour in my bean sauce! I added this and then, rather late in the day, realised a bay leaf might be a good idea. I added one anyway, even though there wasn't much cooking time left.

The result was quite good, though there's definitely room for improvement. Next time I'll definitely use bean-flavoured water from the start. I'll skip the Worcester sauce and probably the balsamic vinegar too, and I'll add the bay leaf at the beginning instead of the end. When I get a recipe I'm happy with I'll post the details.

What about the dandelion fritters? I hear you ask. No I don't, because you'd forgotten about them, hadn't you? These were a seperate meal, but I wanted to mention them because I'm happy about the fact that dandelions are flowering again.

Lunch: Dandelion fritters with sweet chilli sauce and a side helping of nettles and ground elder. And a cup of tea, naturally.


  1. I made baked beans once. I've given away the book with the recipe in (clever me) but I'm pretty sure it had treacle and cloves in it - you definitely need treacle. They didn't taste like the tinned ones but there was a vague and passing resemblance!

  2. The American recipe I tried first had treacle in it (or molasses, which I believe is very similar). I'll try substituting that for the sugar next time. Cheers :)

  3. Hello Rachel
    Good to chat yesterday - how was the ground elder? I am off to hunt fresh nettles and we have ground elder in the garden ... so ...

  4. Hi Ellie,
    Ground elder has been my big discovery so far this year - I really like it. This is lucky, because there's an awful lot of it in the garden! It has a milder taste than nettles, a little like parsley. I'm going to put some in soup for lunch today.
    R x

  5. No, Susie, treacle wasn't what this recipe needed. I tried it and it wasn't good :-(

    It may be a central part of the classic American baked bean recipe, but I'm not sure Mr Heinz uses it for the ones he sells to us limies. It didn't work in my imitation Heinz recipe, anyway.


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