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. In my opinion, this soup is best made by 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 am not a member of any of those groups, and I do not own a giant iron kettle. Nevertheless, I cooked a half-ham last Thursday, and saved the ham bone with this recipe in mind.
This is very simple recipe, and because it appeared in print, here is Grandma Losch’s version:
When I say “in print”, I am referring to the Faith Lutheran Church cookbook, circa 1976. This is one of the few cookbooks 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:
Check out that kitchen, people! The harvest gold countertops! The dark wood cabinets! The orange linoleum! Such a period piece!
Some of Grandma Losch’s “greatest hits” are in this cookbook, and you’ll see more of them here in future installments. The soup is listed in this collection as 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 practically 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 embarrassed by how “cheap” she was, but now I realize she was cool before her time. Green. Sustainable. Trying to “reduce her carbon footprint.” 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.
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 hadn’t thought to soak ’em overnight, so I threw them into a pot and boiled them for a couple of hours, which is pretty much the same thing as soaking overnight:
Pressure cooker (or Instapot) owners can cook beans in about half an hour. Or, you can set them to cook on low overnight in a slow cooker, if you are able to think that far ahead. Or – heck – buy cans of beans. It all works.
Once the ham bone is cooked and the beans have boiled until soft, you are ready add the rest of the 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. 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. A can of those petite diced tomatoes would also work.
See those clear bags of Celery Flakes and Bay Leaves? I had no fresh celery, but I did have dried celery flakes from my favorite spice store, Penzey’s. They mail order, and also have retail stores, one of which is located within an easy drive of my home, thank the goddesses. The spices are excellent quality, and usually less expensive than what you can get in the grocery store.
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 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 figured why not.
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 let’s keep that between us.)
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 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 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 one of my sons inhaled his:
You can freeze this soup, or just keep it in the fridge and reheat it over and over for days on end. It gets better every time.