“Eating beans” has been shorthand for “hard times” for a long while. I hear stories about people whisking pots of beans off the dinner table in embarrassment when unexpected company showed up. Then this week I was a reading a newspaper story about the economic difficulties with which we are all struggling. The writer made some comment about having to make dinner out of a can of beans. I thought, oh, for pity’ s sake, that isn’ t such a hardship unless it is a very tiny can of beans and a very big family, or you have to do it day after day for week after week.

Canned beans are roughly equivalent to leftover baked beans and at our house we like leftover baked beans fixed up different ways, and even make a delicious meal of them from time to time. While I usually have in my freezer pint containers full of beans I baked in the winter, when those are gone, I am not embarrassed to buy a can of good old Maine baked beans to make a fast supper for Jamie and me.

I’ ve always liked cold baked bean sandwiches, and there are a couple of variations on those that we enjoy, including beans merely served on toast or an open-faced bean sandwich improved with onions and a bit of cheese and run under the broiler. I’ ve heard some mutter “awfully starchy” but I don’ t see the difference between refried beans and tortillas, either chips or tacos, and my bean sandwich. Years ago as vegetarians, we found we could complete a legume protein by the addition of grain in bread. We really like robust bread, multigrain, whole wheat or rye. I have made the bean sandwich on English muffins, too. Sometimes I drain the beans a little and mash them up.

I also make baked bean soup by adding sauteed onion, stock or broth and lively seasonings to beans. Depending on circumstances, morsels of ham or bacon can further improve the soup, as can a stray carrot or celery stalk. For the lively seasonings, it pays to keep an open mind because a squirt of ketchup, dollop of mustard, shake of chili, cumin, garlic powder, or pepper might do the trick. With a salad or coleslaw served on the side, the soup can make a very decent meal. Don’ t forget pickles.

I suppose you could buy two cans of beans, use one in sandwiches, the other in soup to go with them. Just leave the windows open.

Send queries or answers to Sandy Oliver, 1061 Main Road, Islesboro 04848. E-mail: tastebuds@prexar.com.

Open Faced Baked Bean Sandwiches

– Can of baked beans or leftover homemade beans

– One or two slices bread per person

– Mustard

– Onion, thinly sliced

– Cheddar or Swiss cheese, thinly sliced

– Ham, thinly sliced (optional)

Turn on the broiler. Lightly toast bread to prevent the sandwich from becoming soggy. Lay bread slices on a baking sheet. Spread with mustard if desired, and lay on the ham if you use it. Top with well-drained baked beans, and lay a few rings of onion on top of that. Add the cheese last. Run under broiler for five minutes, check to see if it needs more time, and remove when cheese is a little bubbly and the onions wilted.

&nbspBaked Bean Soup

– Large onion, chopped

– Vegetable oil

– Stalk of celery, chopped (optional)

– Carrot, sliced (optional)

– Can of baked beans, drained somewhat to reduce sweetness

– Twice as much beef or vegetable broth as beans, or to taste

– Ham, diced, or bacon, cooked and crumbled (optional)

– Your choice to taste of powdered celery seed, garlic, chili powder, cumin, red pepper, mustard, ketchup

Saute chopped onion in oil, plus celery and carrots if you choose, for about five minutes until they are just softened. Add beans, broth, meat and your choice of seasonings. Bring to a boil and reduce heat right away to a simmer. Cook for half-hour, taste, adjust seasonings, and serve.