Ham Bone (Bean) Soup

This is another one of those recipes that’s difficult to attribute to one grandma or the other, because both of them made it regularly. Frankly, this soup is best made by little old ladies – members of the Grange or the Lions Club or the Moose or Elks or the Fire Company or the Lutheran Church – cooked for hours in giant iron kettles and served up at community festivals such as carnivals or parades, or weekend church supper fundraisers where you can take it to go if you bring your own quart jars along.

I myself am neither little nor old, nor a member of any of those groups, and I do not own a giant iron kettle. Nevertheless, I cooked me a half-ham last Thursday, and my dear husband knows me well enough to have saved the ham bone because he knew I would want to do something with it.

This is very simple recipe, and because it appeared in print, here is Grandma Losch’s version:

hambonesoup

When I say “in print”, I am referring to the Faith Lutheran Church cookbook, circa 1976, and believe me when I say, this is one cookbook I keep going back to. My grandma’s recipes are well-represented, as are those from my aunts, cousins, as well as many lovely folks from the church in which my own mother grew up. The contents are priceless, and frankly, so is the cover photo:

faith-cookbookCheck out that kitchen, people! The harvest gold countertops! The dark wood cabinets! The orange linoleum! Such a period piece!

Sorry, got distracted there. Some of Grandma Losch’s “greatest hits” are in this cookbook, and you’ll see many more of them here in future installments. But for now – where was I? – oh yes – Ham Bean Soup. Or, as it’s listed herein, Ham BONE Soup. And I suspect it was bone rather than bean because Grandma was a child of the Great Depression and she was as thrifty as the day is long.  She could make a good soup out of a bare bone and whatever else was in the fridge. This is the woman who reused plastic bread bags. She made us rewash styrofoam plates and cups and plastic cutlery.  I used to be embarassed by how “cheap” she was, but now I realize she was simply trying to “reduce her carbon footprint.” She made “Dandelion Gravy”, which, frankly, I couldn’t get over because I watched her walk out and literally pick grass (dandelion leaves!) from the yard, then cook to drippings and a sweet/sour sauce.  FRUGAL was her middle name! Actually, her middle name was Margaret, and that’s what my mom chose as my first name, and my middle name is the same as my other grandmother’s, and… well, now you understand, don’t you?

WHERE WAS I? Oh yes, the Soup! It’s a simple recipe. I took pictures! And, I had to make emergency substitutions and embellish a wee bit.  If you want to go Old School, follow what’s pasted above. But here’s how I did it, using the leftover baked ham and the other stuff I had in my pantry:

1. RE-COOK HAM BONE IN WATER. For, like, a couple / few hours.

hambone-in-pot

2. SOAK SOUP BEANS OVERNIGHT. Grandma’s recipe calls for “soup beans”, where “soup beans” equals those dried navy beans, I think. However, all I had was some dried pinto beans, and I had not had the forethought to soak ‘em overnight (who can remember?), so I threw them into a pot and boiled them for, like, a couple of hours, which is pretty much the same thing as soaking overnight:

soak-beans

Once the ham bone is cooked and the beans have boiled until soft, you are ready to rock ‘n’ roll with the rest of the ingredients, where “rock ‘n’ roll” equals throw ‘em all into a pot and cook, cook, cook:

ingredients

A couple of points about how my other ingredients vary from what’s called for in the recipe: First of all, I don’t know why she lists “tomato juice” because my soup was pretty watery and tomato juice wouldn’t have helped me there. Also, tomato juice is something I never have just laying around, and if I do, I’m saving it for Bloody Marys. So, I substituted a small can of tomato paste, and that worked great.  Plain tomato sauce would work, too. But it has to be PLAIN, not, like, Ragu or some other flavored sauce, OK?

See those clear bags of Celery Flakes and Bay Leaves? I had no fresh celery (actually, I did, but when I went to get it out I discovered it had partially frozen, and celery frozen is just nasty) so I used some dried celery flakes from my favorite spice store, Penzey’s. (Have you shopped Penzey’s? They mail order, and also have retail stores, one of which happens to be within 8 miles of my house. [Be still my soul.] The spices are excellent quality, and less expensive than what you can get in the grocery store. If you like to cook, you need to shop Penzey’s!) Well, my grandma didn’t have Penzey’s, but she had the next best thing – she lived next door to my aunt and uncle, who ran a small country-crossroads grocery store at the bottom of their hill, and she could call down and just ask “Troupie” to bring something up for her. Like celery and tomato juice. And an onion, too, please. If it’s not too much trouble.

Bay Leaves: I threw in a couple while the soup was cooking. Why? I thought it’d make it better. Grandma’s recipe doesn’t call for them, but I threw caution to the wind and snuck ‘em in there. (Also, I’m trying to find ways to use them up, because I got pretty excited and bought that huge bag of them at Penzey’s.)

Lastly: Grandma’s recipe calls for chopped hard boiled eggs. I seriously have no recollection of her putting eggs into her soup… so I don’t put ‘em in. I give you permission to buck tradition – like I did – and just skip the eggs. But – shhhh - don’t tell anyone, OK? About the added bay leaves OR the omitted eggs.

OK, so you put all of that into the pot with the ham broth and the beans and keep on cooking it, again, for maybe another hour or two.  Stir it occasionally to keep the beans from burning to the bottom. OR, throw it into the crock pot at this point and let it cook all afternoon. You’ll also want to add the extra ham here, too, and pull out the bone at some point and clean it off and add that ham to the soup as well. 

Ideally, your soup will thicken into a hammy, beany, salty stewy soup. Mine did not; I carelessly used too much water.  But it tasted good, and heck, if you add enough saltine crackers, any soup will thicken right up. Here’s what it looked like right before Middle Son (a.k.a. The Boss) inhaled his:

hamsoupincup

You can freeze this soup, or just keep it in the fridge and reheat it over and over for, like, days on end. It gets better every time.

In further proof that I am my grandmothers’ granddaughter - aside from the wicked hammertoe that appeared when I turned 40 – I offer this: Soup Husband Curt and I are sitting at the table eating this soup, and he says, “Good soup!” To which I reply, “meh, it’s watery, and it doesn’t taste ‘hammy’ enough.” And he was all, “OKAY Mary Losch, quit selling yourself short!”  – because any of you readers who were lucky enough to know Mary Losch know that nothing she made was ever perfect. The pie was “weepy” or the crust wasn’t quite flaky enough, or… something. But I couldn’t help it; the soup wasn’t perfect. It just wasn’t! But it was good, and it reminded me of the grandmas and that’s all that matters, right?

Right.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go wash out a breadbag…

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About Meg McCormick

Mom to 3 boys, wife, HR consultant. Grew up in south-central PA and came to the Washington, DC area in the early '90s. Currently reside in the Maryland suburbs of DC. Enjoy music, cooking, and gin. Am blessed with an abundance of friends and an inability to say no to a good party.
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9 Responses to Ham Bone (Bean) Soup

  1. Camille says:

    This looks like a great easy recipe. Sometimes when my soup gets too brothy I add a diced potato and it thickens the soup up. When you do add a potato, add more salt.

  2. Julie says:

    Great recipe! I have made homemade hambone bean soup for years, using the Easter ham bone. Just a tip for those without tomato paste: I squish some of the beans towards the end of cooking, using a wooden spoon to mash them against the side of the pot, then stir. Mkaes the soup thicker. :)

  3. Kathy says:

    Oh my gosh, I thought you were talking about MY grandma! When she was gone and we had to clean out her house to sell, we found stacks of tin pie plates and tons of clean bread bags. She made us wash and reuse styrofoam and plastic too.(Being a child of the depression, too, she had money sewn into drapery hems, and stuffed in jars hidden in the floorboards, but that is another story!) I catch myself washing ziplock bags and using my freezer to save every leftover bone and piece of meat. Anyway, I strive to be as good a cook as she was, and the people around me are happy with my efforts!

  4. Angela says:

    I was searching for a ham and bean soup recipe and I just got such a kick out of your post here as well as your recipe is really what I was looking for. My grandmothers and great grandmothers were the same way. I use to make fun of them for washing the plastic disposable plates in the dishwasher. Today I threw out a sack that I thought I really should wash that out and save it. It was quite nice and no place where I live recycles #4 plastics. Amazing cheap and green are very often the same thing. I just like thinking of myself as green as I am not quite ready to admit that I am striving to be cheap as well. Good thing I am a farm kid, I guess I am going to have to dredge up all those childhood life lessons.

    PS I love old church cookbooks, who knew there was so many ways to use Jello.

    • Meg says:

      Angela – thanks for your comment! I agree, cheap and green are often different words for the same philosophy. I’m a farm kid too, so it works for me. Church cookbooks are my favorite! I often look for them at used book stores. Besides Jello, also many uses for canned, condensed creamed soups!

  5. Scott says:

    Funny, my first time to your new digs here, and I was already planning on making ham soup tomorrow. I’ve got a mostly-eaten ham in the fridge right now. I’ll have to make some room in the freezer though, I’ve already got a vat of turkey & rice in there from two weeks ago.

    If you don’t mind a bit of cheating next time, every Honeybaked Ham store has packets of ready-to-go bean & seasoning mix. Very tasty, and you’re not stuck with just navy or pinto beans- there’s a bunch of types. I’m also predisposed to add corn to just about any soup, and it works really well in this one.

    Final question – is this a finger food?

    • Meg says:

      Scott – I like those bean mixes, but have to watch out because sometimes they have garbanzos in there, and Curt’s allergic. We found that out the hard way once. I’m a big adder of corn to stuff too – adds some sweetness. Have never added it to this soup though – Grandma would’ve drawn the line on that, I think.

      If you have to ask whether this is a finger food? Well, that just disappoints me. You KNOW the answer to that by now, don’t you???

  6. Meg says:

    Cathy – thanks! There was no concern for fat or sugar or trans-fats or frying or anything we are generally cautious about now. That’s why it all tastes so flippin’ good!

  7. Cathy says:

    I am loving your Grandmother’s recipes! They are all awesome comfort food that will make you fat and happy! This is the kind of food I absolutely love to cook and everyone should love to eat.

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