Bean Jar

Bean jar is a close as Guernsey comes to having a national dish. A relation of cassoulet, it’s very much a (Guernsey) French thing. This is proper folksy peasant food, so if you’re looking for some stick-to-your-ribs goodness and a thrifty recipe to make a few quid last several days it’s a real winner.

I’ve been meaning to make a bean jar for years but I’ve never found the right piece of meat (I’m sure I could have gone and asked, but I never thought to). The other day I saw the very thing – a ham hock – at the Chase Farm Shop in Sutton Coldfield. I bought one, and headed home to get down with my people in the kitchen.

As a folk dish, bean jar recipes have been passed on orally and by demonstration through families, but all basically boil down* to the same thing (even though we like to tell ourselves it’s ‘the family recipe’); as workers’ food you can riff widely on the theme without going to far wrong – the recipe will take whatever ingredients you’ve got, and is more about principles rather than specifics. Let’s go to my Mum’s recipe here by way of an example:

Some beans, not too many, but you want enough. Soak them overnight, put them in the pot with the ham hock and some onion and potato. Cover with water. Don’t put too much, just put enough but you might need to add more later

As I say: it’s about principles. Those principles: beans and meat, slowly cooked. That meat should be on the bone, as I’ve always been told that’s what thickens the stew up. My family always use a ham hock but you can use an uncured trotter, or a piece of beef shin (fancy folk use both). Apparently you can do a veggie version (“some beans, not too many… etc.”) which presumably relies on starches from the beans to thicken up the stew.

This is a great one to cook if you work from home as you cook it really slowly, on a low oven. The story of the dish is that families used to take a crock pot full of beans and a bit of meat to the baker and he’d cook the dishes in his ovens as they cooled. Like I say, folksy.

You do need to soak the beans (and the meat if it’s a salted piece of ham) overnight but then it takes ten minutes to get on, and is ready when the rest of the family comes home. It’s one of those dishes that gets better as leftovers.

It’s also super-cheap: cheap cut of meat (less than £2), and a bowl of dried beans means I put eight portions together for less than £3.

If you need recipes or want some history try this National Trust Guernsey page, Wikipedia entry or BBC article (which discusses veggie options).

If you want to know how I roll:

  • Soak these overnight:
    • Ham hock
    • 250g dried butter beans
    • 250g cannellini beans
  • A carrot, thinly sliced
  • A potato, diced up
  • 2 small onions, diced up
  • Water
  • Bay leaves
  • Bouquet garni

I cooked this in an enamel roasting tin. Put the ham in, pack beans and veggies around it, cover water to 1cm above the beans (don’t worry if the meat isn’t covered). Add the herbs. Bring to boil, thrown in oven on Gas Mark 3-4. Do that at 8am. At 5pm, flake the meat off the bone (put it on a plate, discard skin, flake meat, put back). Boom, you’re done.

Next up I’m trying these, if you want some pudding try this.

*pun very much intended.

Categorized as food

By Jon Hickman

Hi, I'm Jon. I teach and research digital culture, social media and new media practice at Birmingham City University. Find out more about me with this lovely CV: Find out about my work at the Birmingham Centre for Media & Cultural Research: