A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

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Entry from August 16, 2009
Senate Bean Soup

Entry in progress—B.P.

Wikipedia: Common bean
White beans
The small, white navy bean, also called pea bean or haricot, is particularly popular in Britain and the US, featured in such dishes as baked beans and even pies, as well as in various soups such as the famous Senate Bean Soup.

Navy bean varieties include:

. Great northern beans
. Rainy River
. Robust
. Michelite
. Sanilac

United States Senate
Senate Bean Soup
Bean soup is on the menu in the Senate’s restaurant every day. There are several stories about the origin of that mandate, but none has been corroborated. 

According to one story, the Senate‚Äôs bean soup tradition began early in the 20th-century at the request of Senator Fred Dubois of Idaho.  Another story attributes the request to Senator Knute Nelson of Minnesota, who expressed his fondness for the soup in 1903.

The recipe attributed to Dubois includes mashed potatoes and makes a 5-gallon batch.  The recipe served in the Senate today does not include mashed potatoes, but does include a braised onion.  Both Senate recipes are below.

The Famous Senate Restaurant Bean Soup Recipe
2 pounds dried navy beans
four quarts hot water
1 1/2 pounds smoked ham hocks
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste

Wash the navy beans and run hot water through them until they are slightly whitened. Place beans into pot with hot water. Add ham hocks and simmer approximately three hours in a covered pot, stirring occasionally. Remove ham hocks and set aside to cool. Dice meat and return to soup. Lightly brown the onion in butter. Add to soup. Before serving, bring to a boil and season with salt and pepper. Serves 8.

Bean Soup Recipe (for five gallons)
3 pounds dried navy beans
2 pounds of ham and a ham bone
1 quart mashed potatoes
5 onions, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
four cloves garlic, chopped
half a bunch of parsley, chopped

Clean the beans, then cook them dry. Add ham, bone and water and bring to a boil. Add potatoes and mix thoroughly. Add chopped vegetables and bring to a boil. Simmer for one hour before serving.

4 January 1912, Mansfield (OH) News, “Four Bean Soup Senators” by Arthur W. Dunn, pg. 5, col. 4:
They Like Bean Soup.
The house restaurant makes a specialty of bean soup, which it serves on certain days of the week. Senators Clapp, Brown, Nelson and Stephenson can never be found in the senate restaurant at lunchtime on bean soup days. Their orders for bean soup are always awaiting them on the house side.

March 1918, Southern Woman’s Magazine, pg. 35, col. 1:
HERE is a recipe which I purchased for ten francs from the famous Restaurant Foyot—the Senate Restaurant of Paris—for as good a bean soup as I know.  As the French have accused us of having ten different religions and only one kind of soup, wemay adopt this recipe from them for our collection of good recipes, which we have passed along:

Bean Soup—For Four People
1 pint of stewed White beans rubbed through a sieve.
1 quart of morning milk.
1 small onion.
4 tablespoonsful of chopped parsley.
Butter the size of a hen’s egg.

The beans must be thoroughly cooked and the water cooked out dry. A small piece of salt pork should be boiled with the beans. Fry onion slowly in butter. Heat the milk in double boiler. Put in butter and onion; add the strained beans,salt and pepper; let stand two hours just (Col. 2—ed.) goodand hot. When serving, add chopped parsley, stir in and serve at once.

Using this same foundation, addhalfas much strained well-cooked tomatoes, a few carrots and you have Potage Nirernaise.

11 March 1927, Dallas (TX) Morning News, part 1, pg. 14:
Senators Differ on Menus
but Bean Soup Is Popular

One thing he (Joseph I. Langer, manager of the six Senate restaurants—ed.) had learned is to keep on tap a bountiful supply of old-fashioned bean soup. That dish appears to be nonpartisan, having the support of Senators from all sections. One day, some years ago, he removed it from the menu. The Senate of the United States immediately took informal but vigorous action, and bean soup was restored to the menu, permanently. At present twenty gallons are made—and consumed—every day.

11 October 1933, San Antonio (TX) Light, “The Washington Side Show,” pg. 8B, col. 7:
Old-fashioned bean soup was put on the menu of the senate restaurant at the insistence of the late Senator Knute Nelson of Minnesota...It became so famous it never has been taken off.

11 February 1937, New York (NY) Times, pg. 23:
WASHINGTON, Feb. 10 (AP).—Gottlieb Baumgartner, chef of the Senate restaurant since 1919, died today of a heart attack at the age of 49. Famous among Capitol epicures for his bean soup, he also learned to make “pot likker” and “corn pones” the way the late Senator Huey P. Long liked them. He was a native of Switzerland.

23 January 1938, New York (NY) Times, “Cookery of a Nation Centers in the Capitol” by Frank George, pg. 128:
Bean soup has appeared on House and Senate menus daily for more than fifteen years. As Harry Colder can recall, the original Senate recipe was supplied by ex-Senator Nelson of Minnesota. Both House and Senate chefs are rightly proud of their individual bean soup, but the recipes are virtually the same, except that Zahn simmers the soup four hours and adds a bit of pork; Dietrich cooks his a shorter time.

Zahn says the best bean for his purpose is a pea bean from California. Other ingredients are a ham bone and chopped onion. The beans are soaked overnight, and then boiled gently with a piece of ham and bone. A large onion, chopped fine, is braised in a little butter and added to the soup. The beans ar lightly braised to cloud the soup a little; salt and pepper are added to taste.

Google News Archive
3 June 1938, St. Petersburg (FL) Evening Independent, pg. 1A, col. 6:
Bean Soup and Apple Pie Ordered
Most Often in Senate Restaurant
As These Dishes Are Best Known

Washington, June 3—It is a shame to come all the way to Washington and then order bean soup and apple pie, but it is surprising the number of people who do just that—at the senate restaurant.

First off, the price is low, the two items coming only to 25 cents.

Google News Archive
12 April 1940, Prescott (AZ) Evening Courier, “The Daily Washington Merry-Go-Round” by Drew Perason and Robert S. Allen, pg. 10, col. 7:
BEAN SOUP—Every day for nearly half a century the menu of the Senate restaurant has listed this plebian item: “Old-fashioned bean soup, 15 cents.” it is a standing joke with regular patrons, few of whom know that the dish is a tribute to a statesman who carved a notable record in the Senate—Knute Nelson of Minnesota.

Bean soup got its start in 1895, shortly after Nelson began his 28-year senatorial career. One day after scanning the menu, he threw down his napkin in disgust and walked over to the manager.

“Look here,” he complained, “you serve just about everything but the thing I like best. I’ve been eating bean soup every day since I was a boy and just can’t do without it.”

The restaurant manager promised to produce bean soup, and it quickly became so popular that it has been continued on the menu ever since.

Note: One other dish that appears unfailingly on the Senate menu every day is apple pie—also 15 cents an order.

Time magazine
No Soup
Monday, Jun. 29, 1942
As Congressmen filed hungrily into the ornate, high-ceilinged House restaurant one noonday last week, big pots of white-bean soup bubbled in the kitchen. White-bean soup has been a tradition on the House menu since the day, years ago, when mighty Speaker Joe Cannon thunderously decreed: “By God, we are going to have bean soup in here every day.” Uncle Joe’s daily lunch was bean soup and cornbread.

Google News Archive
4 January 1943, Washington (DC) Post, pg. 1:
No Party Lines
Bean Soup, Senate Fixture,
Sure of Confidence Vote.

By Francis J. Kelly
Not the least of the preparations going forward yesterday for the opening of Congress Wednesday was the polishing of the big brass kettle where the Senate’s bean soup simmers.

That bean soup has been a daily feature on the menu of the Senate Restaurant for at least 40 years, and one ancient waiter said he reckoned it was compulsory under the Constitution.

Veterans of the Capitol, however, recalled that its daily preparation was ordered by the Senate Rules Committee around the turn of the century upon the demand of the late Senator Knute Nelson, a Republican bean soup fancier from Minnesota. The venerable delicacy, though priced at only 15 cents, is still the pride of Paul C. Johnson, head of service in the Senate dining rooms.

To admiring visitors, he hands this recipe headed, “Keep ‘em flying high, to do this you had better try, that good old-fashioned bean soup”:

“Take 3 pounds of small navy pea beans, wash and run through hot water, until beans are white again, put on the fire with 4 quarts of hot water, then take 1 1/2 pounds of smoked ham hocks, boil for 2 1/2 hours, braise one onion chopped in a little butter, and when light brown, put in bean soup, season with salt and pepper, then serve, do not add salt until ready to serve.”

That’s his plain bean soup, which has stocked many a Senator for feats of eloquence and endurance. Johnson has a supersoup, however, for state occasions and bonfire nights.

“Take a nice slice of Smithfield ham, saute it, dice it up in the bottom of the soup dish and pour the bean soup over it. M-m-m-m! M-m-m-m! Mighty fine! The essence of the Smithfield ham permeates up through the rich hot soup and it opens up your vocal chords, stimulates your appetite and clears out your head.”

Restaurants are maintained in both the House and Senate wings of the Capitol, with all but a few of the dining rooms open to the public. The Senators and Representatives have to pay for their meals like anyone else.

Johnson, connected with the restaurant since 1900, recalled the good old days when every Senator was served a half-pound of butter at a time and there was a bowl of fruit, a basket of bread and a huge pineapple cheese on every table. Before 1903, juleps and punches were served, but alcoholic drinks no longer are available in the dining rooms.

“In those days,” Johnson recalled, “a waiter didn’t have to go around with a pocketful of nickels and dimes.  It was $5 anmd $10 bills, and keep the change.”

27 March 1951, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Barry Bishop Provides Recipe for Capitol Hill’s Bean Soup” by Barry Bishop, part II, pg. 6:
So many requests are received for the recipe that Paul C. Johnson of the Senate restaurant staff has had the recipe printed for ready distribution.

There are probably many recipes claiming to be the original Senate bean soup. But here is the genuine recipe prepared by Johnson, who said it is followed daily in the Senate restaurant:

“For eight persons, take 2 pounds of small Navy pea beans, wash and run through hot water until beans are white again, put on the fire with 4 quarts of hot water—then take 1 1/2 pounds of smoked ham hocks, boil slowly approximately three hours in covered pot, braise 1 onion chopped in a little butter, and when lightly brown, put in bean soup.

“Season with salt and pepper, then serve. Do not add salt until ready to serve.”

Johnson said one of the secrets of the good flavor of the Senate soup is that the salt is not addeduntil it is ready for serving.

Just to show how a famous dish can be copied, here is a recipe presented by a Washington newspaper as that used by the Senate:

“Put 2 cups of white beans, and a ham bone with some meat on it in three quarts of water and let them soak all night. THen start simmering them, which should continue for at least two hours.

“At the end of the first hour, add a half cup of cooked, mashed potatoes. Stir the soup thoroughly until the potatoes are well mixed. THen add 3 finely chopped onions, a whole bunch of celery tops, stalks and all after it has been chopped fine; a clove of minced garlic and 1/4-cup of finely chopped parsley. Let is simmer for the second hour, and then take out the hambone, chop up the pieces of meat from the bone, and put them back in the soup.”

The latter undoubtedly is a fine soup and may be preferred by some to the other. But the idea of putting mashed potatoes into the soup takes it out of the class of the Senate restaurant prize dish, Johnson said when told of the recipe.

7 January 1958, New York (NY) Times, “Capitol in Shape for New Session” by Allen Drury, pg. 19:
One thing, in any event, the returning legislators will find unchanged: their bean soup.

The fact that it is served daily in the Senate restaurant under resolution offered by the late Senator Knute Nelson, Republican of Minnesota, in 1907; the fact that the beans and the ham are put together just so and boiled for three hours; the fact that Ross Destito, Senate restaurant chef, is planning to have sixty gallons of it on hand for tomorrow’s opening—these are the stuff of tiresome legend.

The concoction tastes beany and it tastes hammy and it has the constituency of a runny mud pie; other than that, there isn’t much to be said for it, tradition or no.

14 October 1963, New York (NY) Times, “Senate Chef Knows His Beans,” pg. 18:
WASHINGTON, Oct. 13—For many years, diners at the Senate restaurant have praised the magnificent bean soup. The beans come from Michigan and from now on, this fact will be printed in the recipe on the back of the menu.
Take two pounds of small No. 1 white Michigan beans, wash and run through hot water until beans are white again. Put on the fire with four quarts of hot water. Then take one and a half pounds of smoked ham hocks, boil slowly approximately three hours in a covered pot. Braise one onion chopped in a little butter and, when light brown, put into bean soup. Season with salt and pepper, then serve. Do not add salt until ready to serve. Serves eight persons.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • (0) Comments • Sunday, August 16, 2009 • Permalink