The role of what we eat in contributing to or helping to avert the worst of the unfolding climate crisis is increasingly well publicised. When it comes down to what we can do as individuals, it is often cited as being as impactful as the other obvious lifestyle changes that we can make such as how we power our homes or travel. It’s a complex issue, though, and definitely not as simple as many campaigners would have you believe. You don’t need to switch to a completely plant based diet (although there’s nothing wrong with that), all you have to do is consider what you eat, how and where it’s produced, and make a few small changes. It’s not a binary issue. Reducing the impact of your diet on the planet runs through a lot of what we do here, albeit usually quite discretely (zero waste recipes or sourcing ingredients that are sustainable or from regenerative sources), and this article and recipe is no different.
In 2019 the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Plant and Health attempted to answer the question: Can we feed a future population of 10 billion people a healthy diet within planetary boundaries? Their findings recommended changes to the diets of people all around the world in one way or another. For inhabitants of Europe and North America, they recommended that a diet with less red meat and more dried legumes (such as beans, peas and lentils) would be better for personal health as well as the future sustainability of our planet and food systems.
“The Planetary Health Diet emphasizes a plant-forward diet where whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes comprise a greater proportion of foods consumed. Meat and dairy constitute important parts of the diet but in significantly smaller proportions than whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes.”EAT-Lancet Commission
Autumn and winter are stew season. From the warming spices of North African tagines, through cassoulets to casseroles and hot pots, this is the time of year when a big pot of hearty food provides comfort and warmth.
GUERNSEY BEAN JAR
The Channel Island of Guernsey is within sight of the north coast of France, and the island’s traditional cuisine is a blend of English and French influences much like many other areas of the island’s culture. Guernsey bean jar is a slow cooked bean-heavy casserole that dates back hundreds of years and takes obvious cues from French cassoulets. These days it’s more of a novelty item on menus or is served up at special events and occasions on the island, but until the 1920s it was still commonly eaten for breakfast. It was traditionally prepared by islanders at home in a ceramic pot (the “jar”) that was then taken to the local bakery after they’d finished baking for the day to be left in their cooling oven to cook overnight (usually on a Sunday) before being collected in the morning. Like so many folk dishes, there is no set recipe and many families had their own versions, with recipes passed down orally or by demonstration. As long as it contains beans, carrots, onions and a cheap cut of meat with the bone in (the bone helps to produce a rich, thick gravy), and is cooked low and slow, then it qualifies as bean jar. It’s incredibly easy to make (perfect if you’ve got a slow cook pot or work from home and can put it on in the morning ready to eat for dinner), uses cheap and often unpopular cuts of meat that reduces waste (it’s a great one for nose-to-tail eating), and those all-important dried legumes that we all need to eat more of are the main ingredient. Here’s how to make Guernsey bean jar.
200g dried haricot beans
200g dried butter beans
1 large onion chopped
2 carrots chopped
1 pigs trotter or a slice of shin of beef, bone-in
1 bay leaf
1.5 litres beef stock or water
Soak the beans overnight in water.
In the morning, put all of the prepared ingredients and about ¾ of the stock into a large casserole dish or slow cook pot. Put a lid on or cover and put in an oven at 150-170°C for 6-8 hours. Check the bean jar occasionally and add more stock or water as required to stop it from drying out and to produce a gravy. Remove from the oven, take the bone (and any cartilage, if you used a pig’s trotter) and bay leaf from the stew, and adjust the seasoning before serving.
As there is no strict recipe, you can use all haricot beans (just double the quantity), add more vegetables or potatoes, or make it vegetarian by omitting the meat and using vegetable stock.
*It’s worth noting here, on the environmental front, that haricot beans (the most popular pulse in the UK, because they are the beans in baked beans) are not grown commercially in this country. Almost all of the beans in tins of baked beans consumed in the UK are imported from the US, Canada, Ethiopia and China. Shipping dried beans is a very efficient way of freighting food (because you’re not transporting a large weight of water, and the good news is that new varieties of haricot bean are being bred to grow successfully in British sunlight. Like I said in the introduction, the environmental impact of what we eat is a complex topic!