One tradition to keep alive

Now that the Senate is safe, let’s make Senate Bean Soup.


While any interest in visiting the U.S. Senate waned after the invasion on Jan. 6, interest in the Senate Bean Soup served in the Senate dining room every day since the early 20th century never wanes. I visited the Senate for the first time more than 30 years ago, and I’ve made the bean soup every year since, usually in the winter.

Like everyone else, my life has changed since March 2020. Homebound, I’m in three Zoom book clubs, working remotely for proofreading clients, watching Jan Buhrman’s cooking classes and seminars, taking Sogetsu classes from Los Angeles, Upstate New York, and Wellesley, and refreshing my pilot’s license. And I’m cooking, cooking, and cooking. If we’ve had a late lunch, a bowl of homemade soup hits the spot in the evening. And with all those Zoom calls, having something delicious in the fridge and ready to go is a blessing.

I’ve been taking cooking lessons on Zoom from Jan Buhrman since COVID locked us up, and I wrote about those early lessons (and a surprise visit from the Chilmark Police) here in “I love Jan Buhrman (April 14).Thanks to her, I’ve upped my recipe for Senate Bean Soup to include only Rancho Gordo beans from Napa, Calif., and homemade stock. And because of the local farm availability, I’m no longer using smoked ham hocks from the grocery store. I’m using pork shanks from pigs raised on Martha’s Vineyard. So while this recipe isn’t Jan’s, the techniques are, which is what she’s all about.

This is one of those recipes with so few ingredients you wonder why you’re not making it more often. The only fresh ingredient is the onion, and the rest is either in your freezer or pantry, waiting for your call.

Senate Bean Soup 

1lb. navy beans or other white beans (I used Rancho Gordo cassoulet)
2 qt. stock, vegetable, chicken, or water
1 Grey Barn pork hock, or 2 smoked ham hocks
1 onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. butter

Soak the beans in cold tap water for two days, changing the water twice a day. Drain.

Add drained beans and pork to 2 quarts of stock or water, and simmer in a covered pot approximately 3 hours, stirring occasionally.

Remove the hocks, and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, dice the meat and return to the soup.

Sauté onion in butter until light brown and add to soup. Add salt and pepper to taste.

If you like thicker broth, blend one cup of beans in a Magic Bullet or blender, or use an immersion blender before you add the diced meat and onion. You can also mash beans against the side of the pan with a fork.



  1. Oh, aren’t you a dear! Nothing warms my heart more than seeing a recipe you created inspired by your tastes. And of course, bones from our farmers and bean’s from good sources (like Rancho Gordo) make all the deliciousness come out! On wintery nights, beans and broth, are just perfect.

  2. For a vegetarian option, sauté a package of LightLife Foods Smokey Tempeh (aka “Fakin’ Bacon”) instead of the pork.

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