Senate bean soup is as bare bones as you can get: navy beans (so called because the U.S. Navy used so many of them), ham hocks, a little onion and a lot of water. Although the origin of the soup is not clear, what is known is that it was introduced on the U.S. Capitol dining room menu by a couple of Midwestern senators about 100 years ago. Everyone must have liked the soup because with astonishing speed the Senate agreed not only that it be served every day but that the recipe not be tampered with.
Using the original recipe, I made a big pot of the soup to see what all the fuss was about. I wanted to liven it up with celery, carrot, a good pinch of sage and a sprinkle of parsley. But in fairness to authenticity, I left it alone. I did, however, add more water. It was either that or stick-to-the-bottom-of-the-pot bean sludge, which could easily add a substantial number of pot scrubbers to the federal budget.
The ham hock gives the soup a subtle smoky taste, and if you’re lucky, there may be a few bits of pork floating around in your bowl. When seasoned with enough salt and pepper, the soup is satisfying, if undistinguished. But after a morning of billion dollar spending debates, we figure senators are ready to shift gears and sit down to a simple bowl of bean soup.
By Jean Kressy, a food witer in Ashburnham, Mass.