Historical Background of Senate Bean Soup

Senate Bean Soup, a blend of navy beans, ham hocks, and onions, has been a culinary symbol of constancy amid the flux of political life for over a century. The authenticity of its origin stories, involving Senators Fred Dubois and Knute Nelson, is more mythical than confirmed, but they underscore the soup's historical significance in Senate tradition.

The recipe, though simple, has seen interesting adjustments over time. The original version included mashed potatoes and celery, while today's recipe opts for a more streamlined list of ingredients. This humble soup, with its roots in America's agricultural heartland, extends beyond mere sustenance. It's a taste of home, a reminder that, amidst political tempests, some things remain steadfast.

Each serving of Senate Bean Soup is an immersion into a time-honored legacy. As the pot simmers, it tells a story of America's resilience and the evolving yet stable traditions that shape its core. This evocative history adds layers of meaning to every spoonful, firmly embedding the dish in the heart of U.S. Senate history.

Personal Anecdote

As a former U.S. Senate staffer, I experienced the daily rhythm and bustling atmosphere of the Capitol. One constant, amidst the whirlwind of legislative work, was the comforting presence of the Senate Bean Soup in the cafeteria. This nourishing and affordable soup became a staple of my workday.

The welcoming aroma of simmering beans and ham hocks offered a refuge—a warm, substantial meal that felt like a small piece of tradition amidst the fast-paced environment. Sharing a table with colleagues, the salty, hearty broth acted as a comforting companion.

The soup's simplicity makes it exceptional. It's a reminder that even in complex settings, there can be moments of grounding simplicity. The affordability allowed many of us, especially those on tight budgets, to enjoy a hearty meal without financial strain. It also brought a sense of camaraderie; no matter our roles, we all partook in this timeless tradition.

This soup wasn't just food; it was a bridge connecting us to the rich history and continuity of the Senate. On hectic days, a bowl of Senate Bean Soup served as a humble yet powerful reminder of resilience and tradition. It was a pause, a moment of reflection amidst the hustle, and a token of the unchanging presence that anchored many through the tides of political life.

Senate Bean Soup (The Official Recipe)


  • 1 pound dry navy beans
  • 3/4 pound smoked ham hock
  • 2 quarts cold water
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (optional, but recommended for bean softening)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • kosher salt, to taste (approximately 2 teaspoons)
  • fresh black pepper, to taste


  1. Rinse the navy beans and pick over. Place beans into a large pot with the ham hock, cold water, and baking soda, if using.
  2. Bring just to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook for approximately three hours in a covered pot with the lid slightly ajar, stirring occasionally, until beans are fully softened.
  3. Remove the ham hock and set it aside to cool.
  4. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent and lightly browned.
  5. Add the cooked onion into the soup. Pull meat from the ham hock into bite-sized pieces and return the meat to the soup. Discard the ham bone.
  6. Before serving, bring the soup to a boil and season with salt and pepper.

Enjoy this soup on its own or with a fresh green salad to balance its richness. This traditional dish will keep well in the fridge for up to three days and can be frozen for future enjoyment.

Nutritional Information (per serving, based on 8 servings):

  • Calories: 260
  • Total Fat: 5g
  • Saturated Fat: 2g
  • Cholesterol: 20mg
  • Sodium: 520mg
  • Total Carbohydrates: 35g
  • Dietary Fiber: 12g
  • Total Sugars: 2g
  • Protein: 18g
Ingredients for Senate Bean Soup laid out on a wooden table, including navy beans, ham hock, onion, and butter

Cooking Tips and Techniques

When preparing Senate Bean Soup, a few key techniques can elevate this simple dish:

Baking Soda for Softer Beans

Adding a small amount of baking soda to the cooking water can significantly soften the beans, especially when using older, dried beans. The alkaline environment created by the baking soda helps break down the beans' tough exterior, ensuring a creamy texture.

Choosing the Right Ham Hock or Turkey Leg

A smoked ham hock provides a deep, savory taste with hints of smokiness. If you prefer a different protein, a smoked turkey leg is an excellent alternative. Both options offer a satisfying, hearty base for the soup.

Properly Sautéing Onions and Carrots

Although the traditional recipe primarily uses onions, adding carrots can enhance the soup's sweetness and depth. Use a generous amount of butter and keep the heat medium to avoid burning. Cooking the onions and carrots until they are translucent and lightly browned releases their natural sugars, adding a subtle sweetness and complexity.

Importance of Slow Simmering

A slow simmer allows the flavors to meld beautifully. Start by bringing the soup to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a slow simmer. Cooking for around three hours ensures that the flavors develop thoroughly, creating a harmonious blend of ingredients.

Adjusting Seasoning to Taste

Start with a conservative amount of salt and pepper, then adjust towards the end of the cooking process. The smoked ham hock already contributes saltiness, so additional salt may be minimal. Taste regularly and adjust the seasoning gradually to suit your preference.

Storage Tips for Long-Lasting Enjoyment

This soup can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days, maintaining its quality and flavor. Freezing is also an option, allowing you to enjoy the soup at a later date. Portion the soup into airtight containers, leaving some room for expansion, and freeze for up to three months. To reheat, thaw the soup in the refrigerator overnight and warm it gently on the stovetop, adding a splash of water or broth if it thickened during storage.

Following these tips, you can master the art of Senate Bean Soup, bringing a slice of Capitol Hill tradition to your kitchen with enhanced flavor and delightful consistency.

Modern Version of Famous Senate Restaurant Bean Soup


  • 2 pounds dried navy beans
  • 4 quarts hot water
  • 1½ pounds smoked ham hocks
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Wash the navy beans and run hot water through them until they are slightly whitened.
  2. Place beans into a pot with hot water.
  3. Add ham hocks and simmer for approximately three hours in a covered pot, stirring occasionally.
  4. Remove ham hocks and set aside to cool. Dice meat and return to soup.
  5. Lightly brown the onion and carrot in butter. Add to soup.
  6. Before serving, bring to a boil and season with salt and pepper.

Serves 8.

Nutritional Information (per serving):

  • Calories: 470
  • Total Fat: 11g
  • Saturated Fat: 4.5g
  • Cholesterol: 45mg
  • Sodium: 630mg
  • Total Carbohydrates: 65g
  • Dietary Fiber: 22g
  • Total Sugars: 3g
  • Protein: 30g

Original 1903 Senate Bean Soup Recipe


  • 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
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Half a bunch of parsley, chopped


  1. Clean the beans, then cook them dry.
  2. Add ham, bone, and water and bring to a boil.
  3. Add mashed potatoes and mix thoroughly.
  4. Add chopped vegetables and bring to a boil.
  5. Simmer for one hour before serving.

Serves a large batch.

Nutritional Information (per serving, based on 12 servings):

  • Calories: 510
  • Total Fat: 12g
  • Saturated Fat: 4g
  • Cholesterol: 50mg
  • Sodium: 670mg
  • Total Carbohydrates: 75g
  • Dietary Fiber: 25g
  • Total Sugars: 5g
  • Protein: 30g
A bowl of Senate Bean Soup viewed from the side, showing the thick, creamy texture of the soup with bits of ham and beans visible

Shortcut Senate Bean Soup Recipe


  • 4 15-ounce cans navy beans, undrained
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 chicken bullion cubes (or 6 cups chicken broth)
  • 1 smoked turkey leg
  • 1 cup instant mashed potato flakes
  • 1 stick margarine or butter (1/2 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper


  1. Place bullion cubes in a pot with six cups of water (or use chicken broth) and add the turkey leg. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes.
  2. Place butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and garlic, and sauté until lightly brown.
  3. Remove the turkey leg from the broth and dice the meat once cool.
  4. Add instant potatoes to the broth and stir. Then add the onion mixture, beans, and diced turkey. Stir in salt and pepper.
  5. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and reduce heat to simmer for 30 minutes before serving.

Nutritional Information (per serving, based on 8 servings):

  • Calories: 380
  • Total Fat: 13g
  • Saturated Fat: 4g
  • Cholesterol: 35mg
  • Sodium: 1250mg
  • Total Carbohydrates: 50g
  • Dietary Fiber: 15g
  • Total Sugars: 3g
  • Protein: 18g
  1. United States Senate. "Bean Soup." Senate.gov.
  2. Gould, Lewis L. "The Most Exclusive Restaurant in America." Prologue Magazine, vol. 36, no. 3, 2004.
  3. The Takeout. "The 100-Year-Old Recipe for the Senate's Famous Bean Soup." The Takeout, 2018.