Forget the collapsing euro - the real issue is beans

One of the most pressing issues us ex-pats face today, is the fact that despite being part of Europe, decent tea bags and baked beans are a rarity in France, especially in rural France.

Okay, so this is not 100% true. (Just for the record, you might like to note that I lie or rather, exaggerate quite a lot. Actually, more than a lot. All the time would be more truthful.) Anyway, you can buy decent tea bags and beans in France. The problem is that they are either available in French supermarkets in the 'exotic foodstuffs' sections and thus for sale at an astronomical price, or in the numerous 'English' shops that are spreading across France. And at en equally exotic price. Otherwise your only option is 'haricots rouge' or Lipton's Yellow Label tea, which as we all know, ought to be renamed Lipton's Brown Sludge That Pretends To Be Related To That Beverage We Call Tea. So not great.

Now I have no problem whatsoever with people opening such 'English' stores.

Lots of ex-pats do, and spend their days writing furious letters to the newspapers; bemoaning the spread of cheddar throughout France and signing off as Disgusted of Dordogne.

My problem is simply with the prices. It is not the fault of the shop keepers. They are paying a huge whack in social charges just for the pleasure of being open. Really they ought to be given charitable status and a sodding great EU grant. They are providing aid in the form of Marmite to us distressed gentlefolk. But instead, by the time they have bought their Heinz beans, transported them, paid all the necessary dues and put them on a shelf, the beans cost about the same as a kilo of truffles. I recently heard of someone who paid 2.90€ for a tin.

Us distressed ex-pats who are trying and failing, to eke out a living, cannot afford to feed our off-spring the vegetable equivalent of caviar on toast for tea. The result? An entire generation is now growing up without access to affordable baked beans. This is an outrage and I urge you to write to your MEP now!

I am counting on your support. Forget the currency collapse. The real issue here is beans. Or then again, perhaps Beanz meanz currency.....

It cannot come as any surprise that a lot of the things we take for granted are simply not available in France.

Beans – as we live in the Ardennes, we drive to the nearest Belgian supermarket, where we can stock up with our favourite brand. It is not that the French dislike haricot beans but they do not grow the same variety.

Mustard – the French love Dijon mustard and have endless variations on sale in their supermarkets but not English or German recipes. (English mustard is available in Belgium and Germany is less than 2 hours drive).

Tea – a good cuppa relies on the water being acceptable. We were told to boil our water in the first village we stayed in. Here in Mouzon the water is so hard and full of chemicals that the kettle furs up after one boil and an ominous white sludge appears if the kettle is not cleaned out regularly. Partly for this reason and partly because fresh milk is not always available, Lipton’s Yellow label produced a better cup of tea after a 5 minute brew than the English brand we imported.

The French distrust foreign food but the saving grace for us is that the Belgians positively embrace it. We regularly shop in Florenville, which is only 30 minutes drive from here.

I have just paid 78 cents a tin, in our local carrefour in Mirande. I think that's very good. I got the last 2 tins though!

Ok Christopher - promise I will make it!

And here's the foodie group

I like my brown bread and beans!

Wow Christopher now we are off the Euro we can really move. Recipes. We need a food group to accomodate them and I'll be in there with things like the Weihnachsstollen I am making this week and other delights.

Of course you will need to make Steamed Boston Brown Bread to go with the beans....


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1 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. med. rye flour
1 c. yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 c. raisins (opt.)
2 c. buttermilk, room temp.
3/4 c. molasses
Generously grease 2 (1 pound) coffee cans or 3 (1 lb.) vegetable or fruit cans; set aside. In a large bowl, combine whole wheat flour, rye flour, cornmeal, baking soda and salt. Add raisins, if desired. Toss to separate and coat with flour mixture.

In a medium bowl, combine buttermilk and molasses. Stir into flour mixture only until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn into prepared cans, filling evenly. Cover cans tightly with 2 layers of foil; tie with string. Place a rack in a large kettle. Place cans on rack. Place kettle over low heat. Add boiling water until halfway up cans. Cover; bring water to a gentle boil. Steam bread 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Add more boiling water during steaming, if necessary. Carefully remove bread from cans. Cool on racks at least 30 minutes before slicing. Makes 2 or 3 small loaves.

"Dark treacle has a distinctively strong flavour, slightly bitter, and a richer colour than golden syrup, yet not as dark as molasses. " I had to look up dark treacle since that is not ususally available in the US and molasses is more common. It looks like you could use it, although the beans would not come out of the oven as dark. There are a number of substitutions that can be made for molasses. For a given volume of molasses, one of the following may be used (with varying degrees of success):

@Christopher Would English style Black Treacle be a substitute for Molasses ?

James, back to the sewing machine and finish that cape!

Petra, just for your assurance, what I saw of Fray Bentos was as naff as a made up name. Yep, the beans would be for us big folk too, the young ones need that blue label or strike action ensues.

It's a shame when even a tongue-in-cheek humorous post brings out the 'we're-so-integrated-not-one-morsel-of-filthy-non-french-food-ever-passes-our-lips' argument... but anyway Catherine's original post gave me a really good laugh on a Monday morning! I nearly didn't bother to read through all the comments when I could see things were getting a little 'heated', but I'm so glad I persevered. I've learnt that Fray Bentos is actually a place in South America, rather than a dodgy made-up person's name as I always thought, and I can't wait to try Christopher's recipe for baked beans. It's just my kind of cooking - bung everything in a big pot 'with a tight-fitting lid' in a low oven overnight...mmm, yummy - it sounds so wholesome, and easy. Just one thing though, where do you get molasses from?

Valerie believe me if it were possible to return to Australia I would do so tomorrow but unfortunately life is not that easy despite being masters of our own ships but it woulnd't be because we can't get the tea we've been drinking for 50 odd years! I don't think my post warranted such an aggressive response and certainly not over a pot of tea!

Whoosh, is a bird, is it a rocket, no it's super C! Fray Bentos is officially in Uruguay, if you look it up, but the western side of the Rio Negro is in Argentina which is where I was in the suburbs. There are Fray Bentos Corned Beef tins in the Liebig Extract of Meat Company's former factory which is now a museum of meat processing. Needless to say, I did not bother to cross the border to visit, a glimpse in the guide put me off for life.

I like the cape idea....

I never knew that Fray Bentos was a place - that has made my day. I can now tell people that " I just love Fray Bentos", wait for the food snobs to react, then smile sweetly and say, "oh no darling, oh no, I meant the place not the pie!"

Steve, sadly there is definitely one in Paris because my two spotted it and something magnetic dragged them in. I wept, my wife ranted. No more Paris as the standard of food goes down the Swanee (or children grow up).

I once had a group of American cyclists and was scratching my head for something to go with the eggs at breakfast. I then thought that haricot Tarbais might do the job and cooked up a big batch with tomatoes, garlic and onions - kind of a real thing baked beans. They were fabulous but perhaps not the easy beans on toast Sunday night meal for the kids.

@Brian Is there a Wendy's in France ?

Catharine - haven't you changed the picture yet - to the one where you wear a cape and have one fist extended as you fly into the kitchen with Christopher's recipe?

OOOOOH, people some of this is getting a tad bitchy. People like what they like and one should not knock that and tell them to effectively bog off back to England. We were 'punished' by five years in Swansea before coming here but marsh lamb from the Gower is the best I have ever tasted anywhere in the world, my OH says the same. The best beef I have ever had was the most divine Aberdeen-Angus in the city of Fray Bentos (no, it is not a meat pie in a tin, etc type brand, but a place) in Argentina. So what? We cannot get them here so we make do, plenty of things like Heinz beans are the choice of two children who are otherwise integrated. Mind you, when they have had friends none of them has pulled a face at said beans, so they must have something. If the people who think people who like English tea, etc should go home then surely they are contriving a plan to get the millions of young French who live on McDonald, Wendy and other such refined garbage deported to the USA, or? Mind you, if anybody passes anywhere near here with Marmite then they may have more than insults thrown at them, yuk! One cannot taste a nice Fitou properly for three days after being in the same room as that stuff - right had my bitch too. Time for work. Hurry up with the cape C.

Beans might be more expensive here in France, but the wine is a lot cheaper. I think we have the better side of the bargain! Lets make wine the new currency.

Catharine: You could try Spain. There is a huge Auchan at the first aotoroute exit after crossing the border at Hendaye/Biratou