Saturday, August 28, 2010

Navy Bean Soup

Today I want to get the week's cooking over with as soon as possible with little effort, so I'm making navy bean soup. 

It turns out that navy bean soup is only about as old as I am.  The Food Timeline dates it to 1958, and claims that it came from a U.S. Navy mess cookbook.  It provides this recipe, which is fine if you're trying to serve 100 hungry service people, but would need conversion for the rest of us.

My recipe, adapted from a crockpot version, is a bit different. It uses a 4-5 quart crockpot, three cans of Great Northern (a variety of navy) beans, a few chopped stalks of celery with leaves, 1-2 teaspoons of celery seed (very important), about a pound of cubed ham, a little cubed sausage, a chopped onion, a few bay leaves, and salt and pepper. Add water or beef broth until the fluid level is about one inch from the top of the crockpot. Cover and cook on Low for 12 hours or High for 6 hours. Other flavorings (e.g., mustard, garlic) may be added as desired.

Delicious, economical (especially if one uses ham bones or scraps instead of fresh ham), full of protein and fiber, and easy to make--no wonder the US Navy used it. 


  1. Hi, Cathy, and gentle readers !

    Well, that's the '58 version of the recipe you linked to, but surf to
    and you'll get the _General Mess Manual_ of 1902, with that recipe, and roe of C.S. Forester's Hornblower novels has Horatio serving the Royal Navy's version when the Czar visits his flagship. Fiction, yes, but methinks a detail researched.

    For that matter, I remember my father making _his_ version befor 1958.

    Bean soup is also useful as a 'clean out the refrigerator' cloak for bits of meat and veggies. Supermarkets and delis of greater Philly have occasionally packaged 'lunch meat ends' - the bits too small to slice up - and sold them cheap. Good for scrambled eggs, etc, as well as bean soup. Unfortunately my local supermarket that did this closed recently. Darn.

    Yours, John Desmond

  2. Hi, John! Thanks for dropping in.

    I found a page reproducing the 1902 cookbook, but I didn't see a navy bean recipe there, nor did a Cntl-F search turn up "bean soup".

    Just tried again, using your link above, and found a recipe that doesn't specify the type of bean, though the result likely would be similar. This is that recipe:


    Soak 5 gallons of beans in fresh water and 80 pounds of salt pork in fresh or salt water over night. Put the beans in a copper and let them come to a boil, then add 15 pounds of the pork. Continue boiling until the pork is tender, then remove. In a separate copper boil the rest of the pork until tender. When bean soup is done, season with pepper. Cut up 6 pounds of stale bread, brown it on a pan in the oven and add to the soup, stirring it in."

    I suspect that the woman who keeps the "Food Timeline" page thought the 1902 recipe wasn't similar enough to the modern "navy bean soup" to count. But that is probably a debatable point.

    By the way, our soup turned out very well, if rather spicy (because Eric likes it that way, I adjust accordingly). Now I need to try the "flour and water paste to thicken" trick from the 1958 recipe for the next batch!