I love this time of year; the colors on the trees, the bright blue sky, the crisp air, and the woodsy smell from the neighbors lighting up a wood fire in their wood stoves. It’s a great time to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and a book, or even better, a steaming bowl of homemade soup.
After a Sunday ham dinner, my great grandmother, Minnie, would save the ham bone from the night’s previous supper and on Monday morning, she would put together a rich homemade soup usually accompanied by homemade bread or rolls. The type of soup depended upon whatever Minnie had on hand that particular day. One of my favorites was her Bean Soup. It was savory and rich with a thick broth flavored with onions and garlic and loaded with creamy potatoes and hearty beans. This is a comforting soup. A soup you make when you feel a little down and want to be reminded of lazier times as a child, relaxing inside on a chilly fall or winter’s day, watching the rain or snow fall outside your window while daydreaming.
For me, this soup reminds me of hanging out with my great grandmother and watching her “stories” on T.V., you know, those daytime soap operas that used to be so popular for many years but have now become a bit like dinosaurs trying to hang on to their last breath before fading off into the sunset to never be seen again.
I remember being mesmerized by what went on during those shows. I was too young to understand what exactly was going on, but I did get a little “addicted” to them, almost as much as she was. I remember wanting to find out about what happened to a particular character from the day before and not remembering which channel it was on. Minnie watched As the World Turns on CBS, as well some other ones on different channels, which I can’t remember. I do remember frantically turning the knob on the T.V. that day trying to find out this character’s fate. I never did find out, and I’ve always wondered what ever happened to her, locked inside what looked to me like a restaurant walk-in freezer. Considering this was a soap opera, probably something dramatic, I’m sure! I wonder what my mother would think if she knew what my great grandmother and I did every afternoon after school!
I cherish these memories. This was the 1970’s, and by that time, Minnie was in her 80’s! When I think about this, I realize how lucky I am to have so many wonderful memories of her. If you make this soup, and I hope you do, think about all the long-lasting memories you will create with your family, and don’t forget to cherish every moment.
So finally, here is the recipe.
Minnie’s Bean Soup
1 lb. dried beans (I like navy beans)
Smoked ham bone or a good-sized ham hock
3 medium potatoes (cooked and mashed) **Important to cook and mash the potatoes.
This is what makes the soup so thick and creamy. I add salt, pepper and a little butter for extra flavor and richness. Use your judgement for the amounts.
1 cup onion (chopped)
1 cup celery (chopped)
2 cloves garlic (minced)
salt and pepper
Soak the beans overnight in a large pot of water. The next morning, drain the beans and place in a large stock pot. Add 5 quarts of water to the pot. Next, add the ham bone or ham hock and cover. Bring the water to a boil and simmer for two hours. The beans will start to mush, and it’s okay, this is what you want. Add the potatoes that have already been mashed, the onion, celery, and the garlic. Simmer for another hour to cook the vegetables and to blend all the flavors. After simmering, take the ham bone or ham hock out of the pot. Carefully remove any meat from the bone. If you have leftover ham from the previous dinner, feel free to put some in if your bone does not have an adequate amount of meat. It’s up to you how much you want to add. Return the meat to the soup and season with salt and pepper, and you’re done!
Minnie usually served her soup with homemade bread or rolls, so I am including her recipe for squash rolls, which I think is appropriate for this time of year since winter squash is in season. Use whatever tasty winter squash you like. I like butternut or acorn. If you don’t want to use fresh squash, pick up a can of squash. It’s much easier and tastes just as good.
Minnie’s Squash Rolls
1 1/2 cups mashed winter squash (I like butternut or acorn)
1 cup scalded milk cooled to lukewarm
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. yeast dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
5 cups flour
Preheated 400-degree oven
First off, if you’re using a fresh squash, wash your squash and then cut in half, lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds. Then salt and pepper, dot with a little butter, and place cut-side down onto a greased baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. Once done, let cool.
Once the squash is cool, scoop the squash out of its skin and place in large mixing bowl. Add the lukewarm scalded milk, sugar, salt, and butter. Mix to combine. Next, add the yeast and half of the flour. Beat well. Gradually work in the rest of the flour ’til the dough is easy to handle with your hands. Place the dough onto a floured board and knead for about five minutes. Place the dough in a greased bowl, making sure to coat the dough on all sides with the oil. Don’t saturate, just a light coating. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and leave in a warm place to rise. Let the dough rise enough to double in size. Once the dough has risen, take the dough out of the bowl and shape into rolls. Use your judgement on the size — Sometimes my great grandmother would flatten the dough out, cut with a round biscuit cutter, place a pat of butter on top of each round, and then fold them over — Place the rolls onto a greased baking sheet and allow the dough to rise to double again. This should probably take no more than an hour. The dough should be lighter in color than before.
Place the rolls in the oven and bake at 400 degrees for 18 to 20 minutes, depending on your oven. Once done, place baking sheet on rack to cool slightly. Rolls are best when eaten while still warm.
Now ladle up the steamy, rich bean soup, grab a hot, delicious roll, and sit down by the fire, or somewhere just as cozy, and enjoy. And don’t forget to share!