March came in like a lion, roaring with fierce winds; covering the landscape with snow that turned to ice under the hot rays of the sun. Mid-month, March became a bipolar version of Mother Nature; some days warm enough to go without a jacket or long sleeved shirt; some days making us wonder if we could ever turn off the furnaces in our homes. The question now is, with the end of March, will it end like a meek little lamb lying in a field scented with blossoming wild flowers?
So, it’s no wonder that on a wind chilled weekend, I would find myself prepping beans for an overnight soaking. The next day pouring them into a crock pot with water, vegetables and chopped up, baked ham to make a hearty ham and bean soup. During the long wait, my mind began to wander over the origin of this soup. Warning, my mind is a huge game of trivial pursuit; constantly full of questions and the gathering of answers. Is it any wonder that my favorite genre of reading is mysteries? The gathering up of clues to answer the questions of “Who Done It?”, “Why?”, “How?” before the reveal in the final chapters.
John Egerton, a historian and writer of Southern foods, based the origin on the African slaves in the Appalachian Mountain states of Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. To survive, they made due with whatever foods their “owners” grudgingly bestowed on them, namely white beans, ham hocks, collard greens, onions. After the Civil War and the freeing of all slaves, many fled to the northern states, finding employment as cleaning and cooking staff. On the menu of the United States Senate, even served today, is a ham and bean soup credited to the black Southerners. Of course, the House of Representatives could not be outdone, so have their own version, without onions.
There you go, through brilliant deduction (Sherlock Holmes would be so proud!) the mystery of “Who Offed the Ham and Beans?” has been solved, and now for the recipe. I chose to make this soup in a crock pot for convenience; that way it could cook, I could get chores and assignments done, and not worry over the pot. I soaked the beans in cold water overnight which would allow them to cook up nice and tender, but also make them less gassy. Now that’s a good thing!
Ham and Bean Soup (Crock Pot)
1 and ½ cups white beans (aka Great Northern)
1 and ½ cups pinto beans
Cold water to cover
8 additional cups cold water for cooking. (see note)
1 cup each chopped onions, carrots, celery and potatoes
1 tsp. salt (see note)
½ tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. each dried basil and oregano
2 cups chopped cooked ham (leftover spiral sliced ham is what I used)
Place beans in a large bowl, add water to cover them, cover bowl with plastic wrap and let soak overnight (minimum 12 hours).
Next day, drain beans and add to 6-quart crock pot; add in all other listed ingredients. Cover, set on low for 8- 10 hours (beans are tender), or high for 4-6 hours. Taste and add additional salt and pepper is needed.
Note: if using vegetable broth instead of water to cook, do not add in 1 teaspoon of salt; taste after cooking and add if needed.
Makes 10 servings.