It’s been a while since I’ve shared a recipe with you, but with the transition from “red autumn” to “gray autumn,” the installation of the storm windows, the bringing in of the houseplants, and this onslaught, now, of cold, rainy weather, it’s truly feeling like we’ve entered the cold time of year. Winter!
And what better way to battle the chill than with a nice big pot of ham and bean soup?
File this under “opulent opossum”—it’s one of those simple, homey, perfect things we have here in the Midwest. One of those absolute glories that we take too much for granted these days. It has no gourmet ingredients in it, so it’s not “cool.” Frankly, though, we should be celebrating good ol’ ham and bean soup, holding it up as a healthful, delicious, cherished dish. The food of our people!
This is not a fancy recipe—it’s basic. And for me, it’s home, because this is my mom’s recipe. I’m not sure where it came from originally, but I have noticed the same recipe available online—for example, here.
Maybe it came from the back of a package of beans. Or maybe it’s from a popular cookbook or ladies’ cooking magazine. One time I had ham and bean soup at a café, and it tasted just like this! (Naturally, I thought it was ex-cel-lent soup!) Wherever the recipe first appeared, and regardless of how many other people also use it and call it their family recipe, for me, this is the one. So file it also under “mom recipes”!
We all have foods like this—scenes and images from home waft into the mind just as the cooking aroma penetrates the home. I think of coming home from school on a drizzly fall day, and mom would have this soup on the stove, and corn muffins keeping warm above the stove’s pilot light. Or maybe it’s been a snow day, and my brother and I have spent the afternoon reading comic books or playing outside in the snow. Sometimes, I think of college days, when I’d come home dog tired, and there’d be that soup, which both comforts and revives.
Note: At my mom’s house, the accompaniments always include corn muffins (sure, you can use Jiffy mix), butter, and jam. Or a few little pieces of cheese. Pickles and olives go well, too!
Ham and Bean Soup
2½ cups (16 oz.) dry navy (or northern) beans
3-pound meaty ham bone
3 quarts water
1 cup chopped celery
1½ cups chopped carrots
1¼ cups pared, chopped potato (1 large)
1¼ cups chopped onion (1 large)
½ teaspoon (or more) salt (to taste)
¼ teaspoon pepper
3–4 dashes bottled hot pepper sauce
Rinse beans; place in large Dutch oven with the ham bone and water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat and simmer, covered, till beans are tender, 3 to 3½ hours. Remove ham bone and meat; cool till it can be handled. Coarsely chop meat and return to soup along with the remaining ingredients; discard the bone. Simmer 30 minutes more or till vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Makes about 3½ quarts.