Posted by: Kath Usitalo | January 16, 2012

Recipe File: Senate Bean Soup

Michigan Navy beans star in this hearty soup; I added carrots to the mix

Winter is finally rolling out across the land and thoughts—and appetites—turn to a hearty soup simmering in the crock pot. Maybe that’s why January is designated National Soup Month.

This Navy bean soup is so good it’s been on the menu at the Capitol Hill Senate Restaurant in Washington D.C. since 1904.

Senate Bean Soup (art by TJ Kozak)

How it got there is a matter of dispute. One legend has it that Idaho Senator Fred Thomas Dubois, who was in office from 1901-07 and supervised the restaurant, mandated that the soup be served there every day.

Another tale attributes the menu mandate to Minnesota Senator Knute Nelson.

Then there’s the story that Joseph G. Cannon of Illinois, U.S. Speaker of the House from 1903-11, had a hankering for it and simply demanded the daily kettle.

Whatever the history, it’s known that Michigan’s own President Gerald R. Ford loved the soup. Older versions of the recipe specify Michigan Navy beans because the state was (and still is) such a big supplier of dry beans.

The climate and soil—especially in Michigan’s Thumb and Saginaw Valley—are well suited for cultivating dry beans, and growers produce a range of red, white and black beans that are shipped around the world.

Learn about the history of beans and Michigan’s crops at The Michigan Bean Commission website. You’ll also find cooking tips, recipes and order the cookbook A Bean for All Seasons ($2.50).

Here are two recipes to try, depending on your mood and ingredients on hand. I’ve made the simple soup #1 in the past and most recently tried recipe #2. There’s a third version at the U.S. Senate website that includes a browned onion.

Whichever recipe you choose, you’ll be warmed and fortified by slurping this satisfying soup.

Easy Senate Bean Soup #1
Michigan Bean Shippers Cookbook circa 1960-ish

2 lb. (2 cups) dry Michigan Navy beans
1-1/2 lb. ham hocks

Cover beans with cold water and soak overnight.

Drain and cover again with cold water. Add ham hocks. Cover pot and simmer for about 4 hours until beans are tender.

Just before serving bruise beans with large spoon, just enough to cloud. Add salt and pepper to taste. NOTE: Do not add salt until ready to serve.

Senate Bean Soup #2
Michigan Bean Commission 

1 lb. (2 cups) dry Michigan Navy beans
1 meaty ham bone or 1-1/2 lb. ham hocks
1 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup chopped celery
2/3 cup mashed potato flakes or 1-1/2 cups mashed potatoes
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon each: nutmeg, oregano, basil
1 bay leaf

Wash and sort beans. In a large kettle, cover beans with 6-8 cups hot water. Bring to a boil; boil 2 minutes.

Remove from heat, cover, and let stand 1 hour.

Add another 2 quarts of cold water and ham bone. Bring to a boil; simmer 1-1/2 hours.

Stir in remaining ingredients. Simmer 20-30 minutes or until beans are tender.

Remove ham bone, trim off meat, return to soup.

Makes about 3 quarts.

NOTES: I skipped the oregano and basil, added about a cup of chopped carrots with the celery and simmered the soup in the slow cooker for about 6 hours.



  1. I make this every year using the ham bone from my spiral sliced glazed ham. The glaze juices really add something special to the taste. I keep the oregano and basil and add peppercorns and whole cloves. I also add carrots as well as the celery – I use the leaves from the celery as well. I usually make it a day ahead of time so the flavors have time to really come out.

    • YUM! Another pot of this in our future

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