Pork, Beans and Politics
"Only the pure in heart can make a good soup." ~ Ludwig van Beethoven
I am always looking for a reason to celebrate food. Trust me, I don't need a big reason. I love traditions, even curious ones I make up myself.
It is a "tradition" in my home during each election season to make a seasonal and family favorite. It is completely non-partisan, it does not signify "red" or "blue". In fact, it could not be more beige and, it is one of my most requested recipes ... "Ham & Bean Soup". This new tradition began years ago after a trip to Washington DC. While on a tour, I learned about the senate cafeteria's long tradition of serving "Senate Bean Soup" every day.
Although there are many stories about how this tradition originated, according to the official history of Senate Bean Soup, it has been on the menu of the senate restaurant every day since 1904! Here's my two favorite stories:
In 1904, the Speaker of the House Joseph G. Cannon of Illinois, was more than a little upset when he was unable to order ham and bean soup on a hot, humid day. "Thunderation!" charged the speaker. "I had my mind set for bean soup." He then went on to decree that "From now on, hot or cold, rain, snow, or shine, I want it on the menu every day." Or, do we give credit to the resolution set in 1903 by Senator Knute Nellson of Minnesota, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, stating that "While the Senate is in session, no day shall pass without Senate Bean Soup."
I have wondered more than a few times if there is another reason bean soup was declared as the official Senate Cafeteria soup: Do pork and politics just go together or is it all the "hot air" many tend to associate with both beans and politics? Can one get more politically correct than dry beans cooked with water, ham hocks, and some sautéed onions?
There are many versions of Senate Bean Soup, each of course, claiming to be the true recipe. (Supposedly the original version included mashed potatoes.) Personally, I think my family recipe is the best. My family has a peasant background, so beans, cabbage, pierogi, and yes, bean soup is always an easy sell.
In my opinion, the soup smells and tastes divine. The secret is not the ingredients, it's how they are prepared. My version is actually low in fat, as I only use lean ham and sauté the veggies ahead of time in ketchup (not butter). This changes the whole flavor structure of the soup, adds so much character, and gives the soup a deeper color. It is almost too simple!
I learned how to make this from my Croatian Tata's (aunties) and my Papa. Each do something slightly different, just like most truly good, ethnic cooks do. My version is below, I usually make this by the roaster-full.
You can count on me making a big pot of hearty bean soup a few times each year. This Tuesday is one of them (remember, it is the Tuesday after the first Monday in November!) I happen to think my version of bean soup would get your vote, every time!
Ham and Bean Soup
Notice the rich color from the veggie saute'.
4-ish large carrots
4-ish large stalks celery
1 large onion
1 cup ketchup (or more)
3-14 oz cans of great northern beans (or navy or butter beans: any canned white bean will do, just not pinto beans)
5 1/4 c water (that is 3-14 oz cans filled with water)
2 teaspoons chicken bouillon
2 pounds coarsely chopped ham
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano Black Pepper, I like lots
1. Chop veggies coarsely, then add to food processor and process until finely chopped.
2. Next, using a large pot, add the minced veggies and a generous cup of ketchup to coat the veggies . Over medium heat, sauté, the veggies and stir often until veggies are soft and the ketchup is caramelized and sweet smelling. Do not rush this step as it may take 20-30 minutes or more and be so careful this does not burn!
3. Add the thyme and oregano and pepper. Stir into the warm veggie mixture.
4. Add the three cans of white beans, an equal amount of water (5 1/4 c), and the lean chopped ham. Add pepper to taste. I like lots. If salt is not a concern, add 1-2 tsp. of chicken base for added flavor. (Not ham base as it imparts a fake, smoky flavor, which I despise.)
5. Simmer the soup, bubbling gently, over low heat for at least 2 hours. Don't forget to stir occasionally. Simmer longer if making a double batch. You'll know it is close to being done when even your kids start asking when it will be ready!
Best served with cornbread.
In Good Health,