Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, August 31, 2006


Page 15



Beans…Bake ’Em, Boil ’Em, Use ’Em in Desserts




Baked beans with tomato sauce, such as those made by Van Camp, are, to my taste, OK as a change of pace. I’ll have some every year or so. But, to me, they’re just not on a par with Boston-style baked beans, slow-cooked in a rich sauce fashioned from molasses and/or brown sugar.

If I were a condemned man given a choice of any last meal it would possibly be a Nathan’s hot dog with Bush’s baked beans, bubbly hot, on a corn tortilla, fried crisp in butter, with diced Maui onions, splashed with Tabasco sauce.

I mentioned that dish once, sans reference to brand names, to a judge who’s Hispanic. He blanched on my defilement of the tortilla.

Tortillas are, of course, not traditionally accompanied by Boston baked beans. When tortillas are served, beans are generally called by their Spanish name, frijoles, and they’re not baked, but are cooked in a pot. They have no sauce other than a trace of the water in which they were boiled which probably included spices such as chili powder. They may include chunks of onions or peppers. Pinto beans are generally used, rather than the small, white navy beans (or “pea beans”) utilized in Boston baked beans recipes.

My wife, Jo-Ann, and I had some frijoles last week at the summer “mixer” of the Mexican American Bar Assn.—a bar group that consistently provides tasty vittles, freshly prepared. The relatively bland frijoles were an ideal accompaniment to the tacos with hot sauce.

Mashed and fried, with oil and spices added, they’re “re-fried” beans—a misnomer because they were not previously fried—or “frijoles refritos.”

There is no more Californian a dish than frijoles, a staple at every meal long before Alta California became a U.S. possession, and continuing well after that.

Chili, originally a stew-like dish that was depository of left-overs, is said by some to have been invented in Texas in the 1840s, but characterized by others as a dish originating in Mexico. At its inception, it necessarily came “con carne”—or “con whatever.”

A March 24, 1885 article in the Marion (Ohio) Daily Star described life in El Paso Texas, saying that a person who earned 25-30 cents a day “goes into one of those cheap chop stands of which there are three in El Paso, and gets a bowl of chili con carne,” elaborating:

“It is a Mexican dish, a kind of meat stewed with red peppers, and is a great stimulant to the weak stomach. The commonest kind of meat is used in making it—stuff that sells in the butcher’s stall for about six cents a pound. A bowl of this stuff costs ten cents.”

A 1906 ad in the Atlantic Constitution for “Genuine Mexican Chili Con Carne” made in Texas, said: “It is the real, old-time Mexican dish, made as of yore, of the finest grade beef, of Chili beans and Chili pods—not powdered Cayenne.”

Wherever it originated, it served as a trail dish in the wild west era.

In canned chili today, when beans are included, they’re most often red kidney beans.

Jo-Ann and I ate at a Chinese restaurant in Rosemead a few weeks ago. For dessert, we were brought bowls of warm, sweetened bean soup. It wasn’t anything we had ordered, and wouldn’t have. A sweet bean dish would not have struck us as appetizing. Hesitatingly, we each took a spoonful…and found the dish delicious and refreshing, consuming it with relish.

I see from information on the Internet that warm red bean soup is a common dessert among Chinese, second only to fresh fruit.

I knew that azuki beans are used in Japanese desserts because I’ve purchased packages of  coffee ice cream balls wrapped in a mochi (rice-cake) blanket, located in markets right next to packages of a like product containing red bean ice cream—which I’ve always shunned.

Red beans are used in sundry other Far East desserts.

Heinz’s 57 varieties used to include baked beans. Nowadays, if you want to locate Heinz beans (which I personally have no desire to do since they’re in a tomato sauce), you’ll find them in British import stores, such as the Continental Shop on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica.

Beans of that brand are extremely popular in Great Britain where they’re served on toast. It’s said that Henry Heinz first exported his baked beans there in 1886. Since 2004, the product has been labeled “Heinz Baked Beanz,” the misspelling of “beans” being derived from a slogan first used there in 1967, “Beanz Meanz Heinz.”

Jo-Ann and I were studying comparative law in London in 1969 and encountered “American” pancake houses which sold pancakes not as a breakfast dish, but as an analogue of crepes or tortillas onto which various foods were dumped. These establishments supposedly providing “American” cuisine offered baked beans on pancakes. Funny. I don’t recall seeing that on the menu at an IHOP.

Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company

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