Senate bean soup facts for kids
Senate bean soup at the Capitol Visitor Center
|Alternative names||U.S. Senate Bean Soup|
|Place of origin||United States|
|Region or state||United States Senate|
|Main ingredients||Navy beans, ham hocks, sometimes mashed potatoes|
U.S. Senate Bean Soup or simply Senate bean soup is a soup made with navy beans, ham hocks, and onion. It is served in the dining room of the United States Senate every day, in a tradition that dates back to the early 20th century. The original version included celery, garlic, parsley, and possibly mashed potatoes as well.
According to the Senate website, "Bean soup is on the menu in the Senate's restaurant every day. There are several stories about the origin of that mandate, but none has been corroborated."
On September 14, 1943, rationing due to World War II left the Senate kitchen without enough navy beans to serve the soup. The Washington Times-Herald reported on its absence the following day. In a speech on the Senate floor in 1988, Bob Dole recounted the response to the crisis: "Somehow, by the next day, more beans were found and bowls of bean soup have been ladled up without interruption ever since."
A 1967 memo from the Architect of the Capitol to the Librarian of the Senate describes the modern recipe, calling for "two pounds of small Michigan Navy Beans".
John Egerton writes in Southern Food that the use of ham hocks suggests an origin in Southern cuisine. Although the legislators credited with institutionalizing the soup did not represent Southern states, most of the cooks at the time were black Southerners who would prepare bean soup in their own style. There was a period when the Senate dining services omitted the ham and instead used a soup base. In 1984, a new manager discovered this practice; he reflects, "we went back to the ham hocks, and there was a real difference."
There are two Senate soup recipes:
The Famous Senate Restaurant Bean Soup Recipe
2 pounds [0.91 kg] dried navy beans
four US quarts [3.8 l] hot water
1 1⁄2 pounds [0.68 kg] smoked ham hocks
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste
Wash the navy beans and run hot water through them until they are slightly whitened. Place beans into pot with hot water. Add ham hocks and simmer approximately three hours in a covered pot, stirring occasionally. Remove ham hocks and set aside to cool. Dice meat and return to soup. Lightly brown the onion in butter. Add to soup. Before serving, bring to a boil and season with salt and pepper. Serves 8.
Bean Soup Recipe (for five gallons)
3 pounds dried navy beans
2 pounds of ham and a ham bone
1 quart mashed potatoes
5 onions, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
four cloves garlic, chopped
half a bunch of parsley, chopped
Clean the beans, then cook them dry. Add ham, bone and water and bring to a boil. Add potatoes and mix thoroughly. Add chopped vegetables and bring to a boil. Simmer for one hour before serving.
As of 2010, members of the public can try the soup between 11:30am and 3pm in the Senate dining room. There is a dress code, and entry requires a "request letter" from a senator. The soup is also available to the general public at the Capitol Visitor Center restaurant on a rotating basis, between 7:30am and 4pm, and in the Longworth Cafeteria, between 7:30am and 2:30pm.
The Project Greek Island bunker, a Cold War-era emergency relocation center for Congress, included a cafeteria that would have served Senate bean soup.
Past prices for a bowl include:
- 1940: $0.15
- 1996: $1.00
- 1997: $1.10
- 2004: $4.50
- 2008: $5.00
- 2010: $6.00
- 2014: $3.60 for a 16-ounce (450 g) bowl
Dominique's Senate Bean Soup is available in canned form in grocery stores and on Amazon.