Michigan is the Key Ingredient to Capitol Hill’s Senate Bean Soup
Did you have any idea what has now become a lunch staple of Capitol Hill has origins in Michigan? Neither did I! I had never heard of Senate Bean Soup until recently and I also had no idea Michigan is "known throughout the world as a top producer of dry edible beans" according to the Michigan Bean Commission. How did this soup recipe make it all the way from Michigan to Washington D.C.?
Senate Bean Soup has been served daily in the Senate dining room for over 100 years. The simple yet robust recipe has been made in homes across Michigan with each family adding its own unique variation. Traditionally made with white navy beans, ham, and a handful of spices, Navy Bean Soup/Senate Bean Soup is guaranteed to warm your spirits on a cold Michigan winter day.
Origins of Senate Bean Soup
While there is no definite answer as to why Senate Bean Soup was first introduced on the Senate dining room menu, legend has it that Senators from Idaho and Minnesota were the first to request that the soup be kept around permanently. Their wish was granted as the soup has been served daily since 1903 with only one exception: September 14, 1943, when wartime rations left Michigan navy beans scarce.
Why Michigan Beans?
According to an old menu from the Senate dining room, the recipe specifically calls for Michigan navy beans. At the time the soup was first served to the Senators, Michigan was an esteemed navy bean producing state. Although North Dakota has now surpassed Michigan in bean production, the tradition continues and Michigan navy beans are still used daily to make the soup.
Though the Senate dining room is not open to the public, you can often find it on the Capitol Café menu which is open for dining to the general public. I'm quite interested to try this soup myself! If you can't make it all the way to D.C., here is the official recipe from the back of an old Senate dining room menu:
Senate Bean Soup Recipe
"Take two pounds of small Michigan Navy Beans, wash, and run through hot water until Beans are white again. Put on the fire with four quarts of hot water. Then take one and one-half pounds of Smoked Ham Hocks, boil slowly approximately three hours in covered pot. Braise one onion chopped in a little butter, and, when light brown, put in Bean Soup. Season with salt and pepper, then serve. Do not add salt until ready to serve. (Eight persons.)"