When the weather turns cold I am reminded of countless joyful memories from my childhood and college career. I was raised in South-Western Pennsylvania where the winters are notorious for being bitterly cold, and yet if you ask many, it can also be one of the warmest times of the year from helping each other with winter chores to finding time to visit with loved ones you haven’t seen for awhile. Our house was always filled with the smell of wood burning in the furnace, and you would always find me camped out on the kitchen register with my faithful companion Spunky; a German-Shepherd/Husky who served 15 amazing years with our family and will always be the measure of what a dog should be, but more on him in another article. While taking up residence on the kitchen register, I would watch my dad and mom makes meals with love in their hearts that they say would “stick to our bellies”. One of my favorite meals was always when my dad would make ham and beans with cornbread. My dad has to make the world’s best ham and beans with cornbread. It is always so full of flavor and is guaranteed to warm you from the inside out. It is one of the only dishes I actually eat hot sauce in and my husband gets so excited when he knows we’re going to have it.
So lets talk ham and beans shall we? Most people I’ve talked to say that they are put off by “having to soak the beans over night”. I say to them, “Nay! you don’t need to soak them over night if you have the time to cook them.” So this has been a debate in my family for awhile, but I don’t ever remember my dad soaking a bean in my life, even though he insists that he did. Whatever Dad, haha. So here is how I remember him doing it, and how I do it as well.
You will need to get: 2 cups dried beans, about 5 1/2 cups stock and/or broth, 2 cups water, about 2 cups diced ham and salt and pepper. That’s it! Now, I do cheat a bit here by using the boxed stock. My dad always puts in water for the full amount of liquid and adds a ham bone to the pot so it makes a ham stock while it’s cooking. It’s up to you how you want to do it. I always use Great Northern Beans, but you could use any dried white bean you have on hand. The ham I used was leftover Christmas ham that I left the fat on as it only adds more flavor to the soup. For cooking, you can either make it in a cast iron dutch oven or in your slow cooker: whichever you use, make sure it is at least 6 quarts to allow for all the ingredients.
After the beans, go head and dump in the liquids: stock and/or broth and/or water. If you choose to do it the old school way like my dad, this is where you throw in just the water (at least 6 1/2 cups) and the ham bone. I also throw a few dashes of salt and some pepper in at this point. Remember to go easy on the salt because both the stock/broth and ham have a lot of salt in them already and that will help season the soup as it cooks down, so keep that in mind when adding the salt. You have been warned.
The last thing to do is add the diced ham to the pot and stir it all up a bit. Put the lid on and cook on high for at least 6 hours, stirring occasionally to check the liquid levels. You may need to add a little bit of liquid throughout cooking depending on the type of beans. If you are cooking these on the stove top in the dutch oven, it will need to cook on low for at least 8 hours and you will need additional liquid. This is the type of meal that just gets better the longer you can cook it. If you have the time to cook it on low for 8 to 10 hours, do it! The beans will get so plump and bursting with flavor you won’t know what to do with yourself. They will also absorb almost all of the liquid, almost to the point of not being a soup anymore, which is how my family likes to eat it. The beans will also continue to absorb the liquid when stored, so don’t freak out or be surprised when you get the leftovers out and the beans have grown and the liquid is all but gone.
So here it is…Ham and Bean Soup! This is the soup at 6 hours on high in the slow cooker. The beans are tender and the soup is bursting with flavor. I served it with my dad’s cornbread, ’cause you can’t have Ham and Beans without cornbread. This soup is, however, also good with some good Italian bread with some butter if you don’t have cornbread on hand.
That’s it! Super easy and always guaranteed to please a crowd. I hope that you will try this favorite family recipe of mine and let me know how it goes for you. Until next time friends 🙂