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Mrs. Leyel’s incongruously named ‘Crème D’Haricots’ sandwich.

A strange sandwich and a good one, sort of. The French label is risible; nobody in France could imagine throwing this thing together, let alone eating it. For authenticity canned beans are mandatory.

Bushs_canned_beans.jpgThe original recipe is clear and short, but even so a few notes are in order.

“Mix baked beans, seasoned with horseradish, onion juice and made mustard, with minced parsley and celery. Pound it to a paste, and spread between bread.”

From The Gentle Art of Cookery (London 1925) 361.


- Unless you are a Young Fogey or other species of culinary reenactor, you will throw all the ingredients for your crème d’haricots into the food processor rather than resort to the tedium of ‘pounding’ them.

- You can buy bottles of onion juice but need not bother: Just mince a little onion, the processer will pulverize it for you.

- Your crème will taste bolder with plain horseradish, whether freshly grated or bottled, and milder if you substitute a creamy sauce.

- Mrs. Leyel gives proportions for some of her sandwich fillings but not this one. In July of 1963, Elizabeth David published a characteristically irritating article on her in the Spectator. While conceding some years later that the recipes in The Gentle Art are “sketchy in the extreme,” itself an overgeneralization, David nonetheless insists that utility is an unattractive feature in a cookbook. Practicality is something that only the unintelligent and unimaginative could prize:

“One of the fallacies about the passing of judgment on cookery books is the application to the recipes of what is believed to be the acid test implied in the question do they work? A question which always reminds me of the Glendower-Hotspur exchange in Henry IV:

I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
Why so can I, so can any man.
But will they come when you do call for them?

The question I should have wanted to ask Glendower would have been not so much whether he expected the spirits to turn up as whether he really wanted them to and what he intended doing about it if they did.”

Once we wade through her awful prose, it seems that David, in characteristically uncharitable mode, is warning her reader that even when a recipe may work, the outcome is not worth the effort.

- We suggest a teaspoon each of grated or bottled horseradish, minced onion and mustard, a Tablespoon of parsley and about a quarter cup of chopped parsley per smallish can of beans (brands vary in size) as a starting point for experimentation.

- This is the kind of ‘dish’ that will bedazzle your friends. Whether or not that turns out to be a good thing is hard to predict, but you will not be serving the same old same old.

- Mrs. Leyel, it turns out, was not alone. In 1936, for example, Florence Cowles included no less than nine sandwiches featuring baked beans in 1001 Sandwiches. They get their own recipe chain in the practical too.