Steeped in my family lore, my gran’s recipe for fab Bean Pie

It took one man 10 hours to cycle to his sister's house, with a surprise gift - which was viewed with deep suspicion, writes Ailin Quinlan
Steeped in my family lore, my gran’s recipe for fab Bean Pie

The penny-farthing - Ailin’s great-great-uncle brought tins of Heinz baked beans from Dublin to Wexford on one 100 years ago!

ONE morning more than 100 years ago, a young man called Johnny Fortune mounted his penny-farthing bicycle on a Dublin street and set off to visit his sister.

She lived in the rural Co Wexford town of Gorey, some 65 miles away, and Johnny had a surprise for her; in a bag strapped to his back was something amazing, something nobody in Gorey had ever seen.

The roads between Dublin and Gorey were not just bad, they were atrocious. They were rough and badly surfaced and full of pot-holes, which was a problem because although it was immensely picturesque, a penny-farthing was quite a dangerous bicycle.

Due to the extreme height of its front wheel (up to five feet), anyone who fell off it risked serious injury, and a number of cyclists had died after tumbling from the bike due to its height, its speed, and the dangerous road conditions of the time.

Which, of course, is partly why the penny-farthing eventually lost popularity and was replaced with what they called ‘The Safety Bicycle’.

Johnny Fortune, who was my granny’s uncle, and, therefore, my great-great uncle, took many hours to cycle from Dublin to Gorey. There were few cars in those days, only pony-and-traps, and the roads were lethal.

Today, on our good roads, it’s estimated that it should take about six hours or less to bike this distance, depending, of course, on the fitness of the cyclist. Given the conditions of the roads a century ago, and the relative caution with which Johnny was, therefore, forced to proceed, we estimate that his journey took him up to 10 hours.

Johnny wanted to bring something special to his sister, a capable but struggling mother-of-eight and a widow whose husband had been killed in a factory explosion.

Eventually, Johnny arrived, amid great excitement, at his sister’s home in Gorey. After carefully dismounting from the penny-farthing before the eyes of a fascinated crowd, he opened his back-satchel and unwrapped the gift that he had carried all the way from Dublin.

Everyone; his sister, several neighbours, his nephews and nieces - including my grandmother, then a child herself - stared open-mouthed at what Johnny had placed with such ceremony on the table.

Two tins of Heinz Baked Beans.

Heinz Baked Beans had been invented in 1895 in the United States and were officially launched in 1901. When they made their way to Britain, about a decade later, they were initially sold in the prestigious Fortnum and Mason department store of London.

Heinz baked beans took a few more years to percolate through to Dublin, and what is certain is that, in the early part of the 1900s, nobody in Gorey had ever seen the like of it in their lives.

The cans were viewed with deep suspicion. It has not been recorded whether Johnny brought a can-opener with him, but it made no difference to his sister. Believing that those peculiar things could kill you, she immediately threw them away.

By the time my grandmother grew up, however, baked beans had become acceptable; popular, a staple even, and everyone kept a couple of tins of them in the cupboards.

So, my grandmother, who like her sisters and mother was a supremely gifted cook and baker, invented a recipe for them. She called it Bean Pie and she made it for her own children.

In turn, my mother, who was an equally superb cook and baker, made it for her gang of six children, and now some of my siblings and I make it for our own children.

Believe me, it is delicious. It’s real, hearty, nutritious soul-food and children love it.

So here it is, the recipe which all started with a few tins delivered by penny-farthing bicycle over many hours and 65 miles of rough, broken roads more than a century ago.

Granny O’Connor’s Bean Pie

Ingredients (for four)

1 sheet shortcrust pastry, rolled out

1 sheet puff pastry, rolled out

Large packet of smoky streaky rashers, diced

Box mushrooms, sliced (optional)

Two onions, chopped

Two eggs, beaten well for the pie filling

One egg beaten well for brushing over pastry

Half a large block of cheddar cheese, grated

3 cans Heinz Baked Beans


  • Grease a pie dish, line with the short-crust pastry and bake blind (put a sheet of greaseproof paper over the pastry, fill with dry bits of pasta or baking beans and bake at 180 degrees for 25/30 minutes.)
  • While the pastry is baking, fry the bacon, chopped onions, and sliced mushrooms.
  • Gently mix in the three cans of baked beans.
  • Stir the mixture over a low heat, and when it’s bubbling gently, add in the beaten eggs and stir in the grated cheese.
  • Turn off heat and allow it to cool somewhat.
  • When the pastry in the oven has cooked, take it out and allow to cool.
  • Then fill the pie dish with the cooled mixture.
  • Cover with the puff pastry sheet, tucking in around the edges, using a fork to prick a few holes in the top to allow heat escape, and decorating with any leftover bits of pastry.
  • Brush with beaten egg and bake at 180 degrees for between 30-45 minutes. Keep an eye on it.
  • Note: This is delicious served with a dish of roasted vegetables which can be cooked in the oven at the same time as the pie.

Happy New Year.

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