Saturday, January 31, 2015

Caroline's Colonial Bean Soup

Just the thing when you're trapped inside by the snow!

I've become a bit of a cookbook hoarder. A lot of my recipes also come from the internet, or are suggested to me by family and friends, but I've got an impressive stack of cookbooks I can say are mine and mine alone, and there's just never enough time in the day to go through all of them and do all the recipes I'd like to do.

That doesn't stop me from buying more, though, especially when they boast having some authentic, historic recipes inside. How could I pass offers like that up?

This particular book was picked up on our trip to Old Sturbridge Village, which I talked a bit about in my post about Joe Frogger cookies. It's one installment in a series that offers a variety of historical and regional dishes, and is definitely something I'm going to be keeping an eye out for when I visit other historical sites. For a little book that didn't cost too much, it's got quite a lot of recipes, and does feature some interesting historical trivia, even if it's not quite as in depth with its historical facts as other books I own are. I can also attest that so far, what I've made from it has been really tasty!

All one thing. But still. That's not a bad sign.

Since winter has finally come to my neck of the woods - I really only start feeling like it's actually winter once there's snow on the ground, even if it's been cold - and come with a vengeance, I basically flipped right to the soup section of Old New England Recipes. I looked at most of the other stuff too, but let's be honest. Nothing is quite like soup on a day where you kind of don't even want to think about going outside!

(... Well, okay, I guess home made macaroni and cheese. Stay with me, guys.)

While again, Caroline herself is not from New England, this definitely seems like the sort of simple dish her mother, grandmother or Caroline herself could make for the family to enjoy on a cold night in Sackets Harbor. There's nothing so New England about it to make it seem like something she wouldn't have enjoyed or had access to, and people have been using beans as a means to stretch out food and provide a good protein source for literally thousands of years, so I don't feel all that weird making this a Caroline post.

And again, until American Girl gives me my colonial New England character, I'm doing what I want with her.

Since this is a bean soup, I hopefully won't surprise any of you by saying you need to start with a cup each of dried lima, navy and pinto beans. Rinse them out in cold water first, and then pour them into a large bowl or pan with just enough water to cover them. These have to soak overnight. I really can't stress enough to anyone who's never cooked with dry beans before how important this step is and how you really can't afford to leave it out. Beans can be a huge pain to cook and can be quite temperamental, and no one likes crunchy beans.

Dump the water after they've been in there for at least eight hours, strain the beans and put them back in a pot with seven cups of water.

You then need to prepare a pound of ham or a half pound of salted pork by slicing it into bite sized cubes. A whole medium onion, a bay leaf, four peppercorns and two cloves go into the broth too. Bring the water and beans to a boil, and then add all your other ingredients in.

For some reason, we were out of whole cloves, so we just put in a quarter teaspoon of ground cloves in instead. It seemed to work out okay!

This should cook on the stove for about one and half to two hours, or until the beans are tender. Mine passed the taste test after about an hour and a half.

My mom recommended this as the best way to cook the soup on the stove: bring the water back up to a rolling boil after you add the other ingredients up, and then turn it down to a low heat to let it keep cooking without burning off the water or causing a boil over. This is the same technique she uses to make our family's recipe for pasta fagioli, which is basically an Italian bean soup and something I'd love to feature on the blog someday.

After the hour and a half, this is what the soup looked like:

Your final ingredient is a pound of smoked sausage. It doesn't specify what kind of smoked sausage to use, so I just used the pork, beef and turkey combination we had in the freezer, chopping it up into bite sized portions and tossing it in the soup.

Once the sausage is added, you need to wait for at least half an hour longer to get the sausage heated up and mixed in with the other ingredients. Cooking it a little longer also breaks the beans down a little further, which helps thicken your broth and give it more color.

Ours had a little extra color because of the ground, not whole cloves, but overall it looked pretty nice.

The cookbook recommended serving it with what I think is one of the most perfect accompaniments to pretty much anything: corn bread!

And so you've got a colonial bean soup.

Now, the book didn't try to claim that this was a fully authentic soup from the colonial or post colonial period by citing a specific source or legend or whatever, but again I have to admit, I felt like this was pretty close to something I could see someone from Caroline's time eating. There might be a little too much meat in it for a farming family, or one that was trying to make ends meet during the War of 1812, but the recipe could always be stretched with more beans to meat as a cheaper but still filling alternative, and the spices are present and flavorful without seeming too extravagant. This also definitely felt like a good winter meal, because you're using preserved meats and dried beans rather than fresh ingredients.

Overall, I was surprised at how much flavor there was in this because we really didn't add much spice or flavoring to it at all. I'd imagine there's probably a decent amount of salt pulled from the ham, and the sausage added a little fat I could see gathering on the top of the broth, but even the cloves were very noticeable and I really didn't think it needed any additional seasoning. It's not a spicy soup or a salty soup, but it's flavorful and tasty. I'm not usually a huge fan of ham, so the fact that I liked this at all was sort of surprising to me.

Like most soups, it made plenty, and I felt like there was enough meat in it that a family of five or six could easily have enough without anyone feeling like they'd been cheated out of the meaty parts of the soup, which is an issue I've had with other recipes I've made over the last year. It hit the spot on a wintery day, and I'd be happy to make it again if I got enough requests to!

Until then, we'll just be enjoying the leftovers!


  1. Winter = Soup in my book! What a perfect meal for a snowy day! I love the picture of Caroline gazing out the window. Did she get a chance to play outside?

    1. Unfortunately no! We've had so much snow, Caroline would be up to her neck in it. And it sounds like there's more on the way. :(