Bean Soup

“Arghh! Don’t go there!” said Connie, “Look at all those cars!”

Jerri, Connie and Sandy had just finished teaching another day of classes at Maine South High School in Park Ridge, Illinois. All three lived on Lakeshore Drive in Chicago, thirteen miles from the school. Connie and Sandy shared an apartment in a high rise overlooking Lake Michigan. Jerri had an efficiency apartment overlooking a parking lot.

The three young women took turns driving from their apartments to the school. It was January 26, 1967 and Jerri was behind the wheel of her trusty Chevrolet Impala. When she picked up her friends that morning, it was snowing, but that was normal for winter in the Windy City. The morning forecast predicted snow accumulations of four or more inches by the afternoon and hazardous driving conditions.

“Or more” were the operative words. The snow was a lot deeper than four inches when they left the school parking lot, and when Jerri started to turn onto the entrance ramp that would put them on I-90 heading toward Chicago, Connie’s quick warning saved them from joining the hundreds of cars and trucks already stalled on the Interstate.

It was the Chicago Blizzard of 1967 which dumped 23 inches of snow on Chicago and left about 50,000 cars and 800 Chicago Transit Authority busses stranded on the streets and expressways. Jerri’s Impala was not one of them. With Connie and Sandy providing directions and a lot of luck, Jerri maneuvered her Chevy through city streets for over two hours, dropped her passengers off, and made it into the driveway of her building where she finally got stuck.

According to Jerri, a handsome Swede who lived in her building and worked for SAS helped her get out of the snowdrift and into the parking area the next day. Since the airports were shut down, chances are he welcomed the opportunity to help a good-looking girl like Jerri. I was lucky that he had to go back to work before she invited him up to her apartment for some navy bean soup.

Navy bean soup is one of the best ways to enjoy a snowy winter day. It requires a little planning as you should soak the beans the night before you make the soup, but otherwise it is a simple and satisfying meal all by itself.


1 lb. navy beans
1 large smoked pork hock
1/2 medium onion (about 3 inches in diameter)
2 ribs celery
1 large carrot
1 large clove garlic
2 or 3 medium potatoes
1/4 cup milk
2 T butter
1 tsp. salt, divided
2 or 3 chicken bouillon cubes
1/8 tsp. white pepper
Freshly ground black pepper


The night before you plan to make the soup, rinse the beans in cold water. Although I haven’t found any pebbles or sticks in the beans for many years, I still check to make sure while rinsing them. Put the beans in a large bowl and cover them with water. The water should be at least an inch above the beans.

Drain the beans the next day and put them in a large pot. Cover them with cold water and bring them to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer them for an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes until they are very tender. Drain the beans and set them aside. Reserve the liquid.

About five hours before you plan to serve the soup. put the pork hock in a three or four quart pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for three hours, turning the hock two or three times. Add more water if necessary. When the hock is tender, remove it from the water and let it cool. Put the water, which is now the broth for your soup, in a large soup pot.

While the hock is cooking, clean and chop the onion, celery and carrot and mince the garlic. Peel and quarter the potatoes.

Put the potatoes in a saucepan, cover with water, add three quarters teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Boil them until they are tender enough to mash, twenty to twenty-five minutes.

Put the chopped vegetables and garlic in the broth, bring it to a boil. reduce the heat and simmer for about twenty minutes while the potatoes are cooking.

When the hock is cool enough to touch, remove the skin and outer layer of fat. Separate the meat from the bones and chop it into small bite-sized pieces. Add the meat to the broth and vegetables. Stir the beans into the soup along with two or three cups of the liquid you drained from the beans. Bring the soup back to a simmer.

Drain and mash the potatoes, adding two tablespoons butter and about a quarter cup of milk. You should have about two cups of firm but creamy mashed potatoes. Feel free to add a little more butter or milk if you think the potatoes need it. Stir the mashed potatoes into the soup.

Season with a quarter teaspoon of salt, two bouillon cubes, about an eighth teaspoon of white pepper and a grind or two of black pepper. Simmer for ten to fifteen minutes, stirring often. Taste and adjust the seasoning. If the soup needs salt, add a third bouillon cube or a teaspoon of instant bouillon, stir and simmer it for a few minutes, then taste again. Adjust the seasoning further if need be.

Serve with a crusty bread and green salad.

NOTES: Bean soup, or any soup that starts with boiling a smoked pork hock, is a good way to learn the importance of tasting. Pork hocks vary considerably in size and in the amount of salt they contain and how long they have been smoked. The bouillon adds salt and flavor, but you will almost certainly need to adjust the seasoning to suit your taste. If you use two smaller pork hocks or a very large one, you might want to add only one bouillon cube to begin with.

This soup may seem like it takes a long time to make, but most of it is just simmering the beans and pork hock. You can be outside shoveling snow or, if the sidewalks are bare, have time to catch up on your reading while the soup is cooking.

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