Baked Beans

This illustration shows a giant can of beans sitting in a park. A man and his dog look on.

A journey of beans…

It’s Boxing Day, so I’ll talk about a British fav: Beans.

Native Americans were baked bean experts: baking them underground with bear meat and maple syrup. The result was predictably delicious. Then British colonists said, cool, we’ll make these, too. Let’s use pig meat and brown sugar, instead. And maybe we can cook them over a fire for a while before we bake them. That was also tasty. But due to British taxes on sugar, the colonists changed the recipe again to use locally produced molasses as a sweetener.

In 1895, H.J. Heinz Co. started producing canned baked beans, which were not baked at all, but rather blanched and steamed in the can. Those beans were the first convenience beans to be sold overseas. To the United Kingdom, of course. (See how this story keeps looping back on itself?) Anyway, British folks were like, why are these beans so sweet, you weirdos? So the recipe was altered again. Now the British beans had a firmer texture and were nestled in a tomato sauce. They were no longer sweet.

Today, baked beans are available in a ton of varieties. You can see ‘em with BBQ or at a picnic or in your Full English. And you can even buy that British version of Heinz baked beans. In the international section of your grocery store.

This is a long story, but a pretty good reminder that all food is political. It’s never just a can of beans. 

Minced Clams

A can of clams sits in a tranquil undersea scene. A submarine drifts by.

A feast of fishes…

Today’s the Feast of the Seven Fishes. It used to be that on the eve of a feast day like Christmas, people were supposed to fast. Then Roman Catholics were like: Ok, you don’t have to fast, but def don’t eat red meat. But then southern Italians were all: Let’s make it another feast day, but it’s all fish, so it’s still alright. They literally rewrote the rules to add more eating. Which is incredible.

“Seven” Fishes is an American thing. And it’s not even necessarily 7. Sometimes it’s 9. Or 13. But it all makes sense, because it’s all eating with friends and family. You all get together and prepare 7 or more fish dishes and holler and hug and tell each other stories, and I’m depressing myself, because 2020 is nothing like that.

I hope you are all leaning into tradition in whatever way this year allows. Whether or not there is any fish.

Quaker Oats

A canister of oats sits under a shining sun, flanked by oat stalks. The smiling quaker fellow denotes quality.

Some thoughts on oats…

If you say, “Oats are a boring thing to draw!” you should read on…

The man in quaker garb was chosen to denote quality. This was especially important at a time (late 1800’s) when there was no federal regulation on food purity. With adulteration de rigueur, few products were what they claimed to be. Quaker Oats were, like, oats. And they still are. Oats.

For a time, Quaker Oates used the slogan: “It’s the right thing to do.” Which seems more like a commandment than a breakfast option. Also, Quaker hired Wilford Brimley. The ultimate oat-pusher. A million memes were born.

The empty canister is, and always has been, for storing treasures. 

Instant Mashed Potatoes

A towering box of Idaho Spuds sits in a snowy landscape. A child on a sled glides by.

A longer-lasting potato…

Potatoes are a celebration food, and they became popular, in part, because they take so long to go bad. But during WWII, the government was greedy, and they decided to push for an even longer shelf life by dehydrating potatoes into granules. Which were then made into extraordinarily gummy and awful mashed potatoes for the soldiers. Like many wartime innovations, there was in interest in making these reconstituted mashed potatoes into a consumer product. They just had to be a little less terrible.

A major turning point was the realization that “flakes” beat “granules” as far as mashed potato texture went. A government facility in Wyndmore, PA developed a process called “The Philadelphia Cook” This involved precooking potatoes, cooling them, cooking them again, and then drying them. Into flakes. Obviously. These new instant mashed potatoes were less terrible than before and saved the hassle of peeling potatoes forever and boiling a towering cauldron of water. A big win!

I hope you are celebrating this season with special foods. And if Christmas is your kind of holiday, I hope it’s a jolly one. 

Beef Stew

A can of beef stew sits in an outdoor setting at night. A camper and his dog walk nearby.

Lumberjacks need stew

Dinty Moore Beef Stew was invented by a lumberjack named Dinty Moore. For a while, he put his thumbprint on every can, but his thumb got tired and he quit. We can take some consolation in the fact that the label is still plaid.

There is also a “recipe” for a roast beef sandwich on the internet which is just a can of Dinty Moore poured onto a submarine roll. I don’t feel super great about that. (This blurb has some truth and some fiction, but that bad recipe is true.)