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Published April 29, 2009, 12:00 AM

Bake 'em: On a sandwich or in a classic dish, give a toot for beans

I’ve been getting a lot of grief lately — as well as a few turned-up noses — from friends and co-workers, ever since mentioning my penchant for baked bean sandwiches.

By: Jeff Tiedeman, Grand Forks Herald

I’ve been getting a lot of grief lately — as well as a few turned-up noses — from friends and co-workers, ever since mentioning my penchant for baked bean sandwiches.

About the only person I’ve found who shares my fondness for the reasonably filling and extremely quick-to-prepare food (the simplest version of this sandwich consists of just bread, butter and baked beans) is Mac Salisbury, a good friend, exercising cohort and fellow food aficionado. Mac likes to take it one step further, though, adding a thick slice of onion to this simple snack that traces its roots to the early 1900s.

In “Cooking For Two,” author Janet McKenzie Hill suggested the baked bean sandwich as a “substitute for meatless cooking.”

But Mac and I aren’t the only ones out there with a love for what many view as a goofy and unappealing concoction. Recently, Heinz touted a simple baked bean sandwich on promotional packs of its ketchup and soups.

And a recent Google search of baked bean sandwich came up with 552,000 entries. The number of variations was staggering.

First, there was the 1943 Baked Bean Sandwich, which consisted of chopped walnuts, celery and pickles, along with some minced onion and ketchup on buttered whole wheat bread.

Another featured a slice of Boston Brown Bread topped with a heart leaf of lettuce holding a teaspoon of salad dressing, which was heaped with a generous tablespoon of cold, baked beans, another lettuce leaf and dressing and finished with a second slice of bread, a tablespoonful of beans, a floweret of cauliflower and a teaspoonful of dressing over the cauliflower.

My favorite was the Baked Beans, Cheddar and Pickle Sandwich, which was made with two slices of toasted rye or pumpernickel.

I’ve had a few of those tasty sandwiches lately — after making some baked beans with a recipe obtained from Rich Vezina, Minneapolis. Rich, a former high school classmate, had a bunch of us baseball fans who went down to the Cities for a couple of recent Twins games over to his house for a little get-together.

The recipe, which he called Marc’s Baked Beans, is probably similar to ones many of you make or have sampled at church dinners, family picnics or work potlucks. It contains several cans of beans (kidney, butter, lima and B&M) as well as bacon, vinegar, brown sugar, dry mustard and onions. (Canned beans may be stored in their original sealed cans indefinitely.)

Many of us grew up on the classic baked version of this thrifty dish — dried beans, water, salt, dry mustard, molasses, brown sugar and salt pork. (Store-bought baked beans are just as economical and are a classic example of a “loss leader,” a product sold by supermarkets for an abnormally low price, often less than cost.

If you overlook the sodium in the pork, the bean dish is quite nutritious, since beans are loaded with soluble fiber, an important factor in lowering LDL cholesterol, and are a complex carbohydrate, which can satisfy our appetite longer by allowing a slow, steady rise in blood-glucose levels.

Beans are one of the oldest foods known to man and have been an important part of the human diet for thousands of years. (Common beans were domesticated about 7,000 years ago in both Peru and Mexico.)

Americans eat a lot of beans. Per capita consumption is about 7.5 pounds.

That’s a lot of baked bean sandwiches.

Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at jtiedeman@gfherald.com.

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