Beans on toast featured regularly on my lunchtime menu as an Irish kid – a simple, nutritious meal I’m quite certain continues to be eaten regularly by many Irish and English children.
An American friend once asked me about Irish lunchtime menus. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the all-American, easy, lunchtime staple. No PB & J for me when I was growing up in Ireland. Even after spending over twenty years in the United States, I still don’t appreciate them. I must confess I find it very hard to eat a peanut butter sandwich. The whole bread, jelly, and peanut butter combination is just too sticky for my Irish trained palate.
When posed with this Irish lunchtime inquiry I had to think for a minute before answering. What is the inexpensive, go-to lunch for Irish mothers? The answer I believe is beans on toast.
Now it’s not a menu item for school lunch boxes, but for midday meals served at home, beans on toast are just perfect. In fact, beans on toast may be found on breakfast, lunch and dinner menus in many Irish or English homes, especially when budgets are tight.
Should I use a singular verb after beans on toast, or the plural form? Beans on toast ‘is’ or should I type beans on toast “are”???? Not sure what the answer is, but I hope you’ll forgive any beany grammatical errors.
Many Americans are probably saying “what’s the deal?” For those whose palates are trained on spicy foods this meal may seem very bland. But let’s face it, we Irish think salt and pepper are spices, so beans on toast suit us perfectly.
And into the bargain they’re cheap and easy to store. A can of beans in the pantry and you’re set.
Furthermore, beans in red sauce are one of the most inexpensive forms of protein available to a busy mom, and preparation is a snap. (That “furthermore” is really making me sound like a bean aficionado.)
Here are my cooking instructions:
- Heat some beans in a saucepan.
- Toast a slice of bread.
- Butter the toast if you wish.
- Then pile the beans and sauce on top.
Some beans on toast connoisseurs forego the butter, but I find a slice of thick white toast spread with Kerrygold butter is a perfect bean base. The salty butter adds a lovely complimentary flavor to the beans.
To beef the beans up for dinner, a poached or fried egg can be served right on top. I suppose beefing them up is the wrong word when using an egg, but you know what I mean.
I hope you like how over cooked that fried egg is by American standards, but that’s how they turn out when fried Irish style. No sunny sides up or over easys for an Irish cook.
Another option is to top them off with a slice of grilled or fried tomato, and two slices of bacon or rashers as we say in Ireland. Yummy! Yummy! Yummy!
I knew someone who liked to spread Marmite on their toast, before topping it off with beans. Marmite is a dark brown, salty, savory spread made from yeast extract. Not for me, but everyone adds their own little touches to make their beans on toast special.
Finely diced onion can be caramelized in a pan before adding the beans for heating. A dash of Worcestershire sauce and mustard kick the flavor up a notch. I suppose these steps bring the beans a little closer to American BBQ beans.
A slice of cheese, grilled to melting point on the toast, is delicious hidden beneath the beans. My mouth is now watering thinking about bland old beans on toast.
As children we loved to drink a cold glass of milk with our beans, but as I grew older I replaced the milk with a nice cup of hot tea with a little dash of milk. Again, most Americans are probably aghast at this menu combination. But the plain old fact is, I have Irish taste buds.
Here in America I buy vegetarian beans. No pork and beans in this house. I’m not fond of a piece of pork rind floating in my beans as they heat. A can of vegetarian beans reminds me of Irish beans the most. Luckily, my local supermarket stocks Heinz vegetarian beans.
The brand of choice when I was growing up in Ireland was Bachelor’s beans. Their advertising logo consisted of two little men singing to their hearts’ content:
Anyone remember them?
I’d say there were, and probably still are, many Irish bachelors whose cooking repertoires consist of beans on toast; no more; no less. The after affects of said beans may be one of the reasons for the aforementioned state of bachelorhood.
Wishing you all happy and easy lunchtimes.
Slán agus beannacht leat!
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom