delicious bean soup

Michigan is known for many things, great people, beautiful lakeshores, cities bustling with innovation and products the whole world enjoys, and some of the best food favorites like Detroit style pizza, Vernors Ginger Ale and Michigan Bean Soup.

Simmering with Navy or Great Northern Beans, this hearty soup is a Michigan staple here in the Great Lakes, and in the U.S. Senate!

The key ingredient is grown in the “Thumb” of Michigan where it was once the main agricultural product, and has been a part of the soup recipe served in the U.S. Senate dining room for over a hundred years. In fact, Senate bean soup is the only permanent menu entree served in the Senate Cafeteria. 

The beauty of Bean Soup is that you can make as many variations as your inspiration and taste buds desire including a vegetarian version. But, to give you a starting point, here’s a U.S. Senate Bean Soup recipe:

Prep Time: 15 minutes   Cook Time 3 hours, 30 minutes

1 lb. dry beans
¾ lb. smoked ham hock
2 qts. cold water
1 onion, diced
1T. butter
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

Next Steps: Thoroughly rinse the beans and place in a large pot with the ham hock and water. Once boiling, reduce the heat to allow the soup to simmer with the pot partially covered. Check the soup as it simmers, stirring occasionally. Once the beans are soft, remove the ham hock and set it aside to cool. Add sautéed diced onion browned in butter, then cut the ham into bite sized chunks and add to the soup. Stir, return the soup to a boil, add seasoning. Serve with warm corn bread for a delicious meal.

A variation on this bean soup recipe, the Michigan Senate Bean Soup, also includes 2 cloves of chopped garlic, 1 c. of minced celery, a ¼ c. minced parsley, a bay leaf (be sure to remove it before serving the soup), 2/3 c. mashed Michigan potatoes, and 1 t. of basil and oregano. All the seasons are added after the soup has been simmering for 1½ hours.

If you’ve been in the grocery and have seen the brand of Bill Knapp’s cakes and pastries, then the origin of this recipe is familiar. Bill Knapp’s was a midwestern restaurant with a hold on Michigan diners for over 50 years. Their bean soup is another classic. The recipe:

Prep Time: 15 minutes - Cook Time 2 hour, 45 minutes

2 c. dried beans
2 qts. cold water
½ lb. lean diced ham
1 t. garlic
½ c. diced onion
1 c. diced celery
½ c. shredded carrot

Next Steps: Rinse the beans and let them soak in water overnight in a covered pan. Drain and add them with the ham and garlic into a pot filled with 2 qts. of cold water. Bring the soup to boil, cover and simmer until the beans are soft. While the beans are simmering, soften the onion, celery and carrots by putting them in another covered pan and cooking with just enough to cover for approximately ½ hour. Once done, drain those vegetables, add the beans and ham and continue to simmer the soup for approx. 45 minutes. When done, puree the soup slightly (use a food processer for best results) and add seasonings to taste.