political soup

What should this man do next?

Hold more town hall meetings or raise more campaign funds?

Well, those of us who practice culinary correctness know what the answer is:

This man should eat more SOUP!!

U.S. Senate Bean Soup, to be exact.

This tempting blend of water, navy beans, onions, ham hocks, celery, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper, has nourished our congressional leaders for over a hundred years. Big bipartisan pots of this soup simmer in all 11 Capitol dining room kitchens even as we speak!

Who started it? Well, you know how it is. Whenever there’s something good, politicians fight to take credit. But Joseph G. Cannon, U.S. Speaker of the House (1903-1911) seems the most likely culprit. He apparently entered the dining room one day, looked at the menu, and sputtered: “Thunderation, I had my mouth set for bean soup! From now on, hot or cold, rain, snow or shine, I want it on the menu every day.”  And so it has been, ever since, with its virtues extolled by the likes of President Gerald Ford, Representative Sonny Bono, and Senator Bob Dole.

I’m so glad Speaker Cannon had his little tirade. Years ago, I ate this soup in the Senate Dining Room with Senator Sparky Matsunaga (1916-1990) of Hawaii. “Sparky,” as he was fondly known, always invited visitors from Hawaii to lunch, sometimes reserving two or three tables at a time. We (my mom, dad, and about four other guests), sat at a round table with the senator, who cautioned us about the dangers of tannins in tea.

A veteran of WWII (Bronze Star and Purple Heart), Sparky sought redress for interned Japanese Americans, and was instrumental in passing legislation for civil rights, space exploration, renewable energy resources, and most notably, for the establishment of the U.S. Institute for Peace. Himself a poet, who wrote haiku while hunkered down in Italian foxholes, Sparky also authored legislation to create the position of Poet Laureate of the United States. He told us he only slept about 3 hours a night. Then he promptly removed the teabag from his cup to avoid any bitter aftertaste.

Could he have accomplished all this without bean soup?

Consider what Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL), once said in his Homage to Beans:

There is much to be said for the succulent little bean — any kind of bean, be it kidney, navy, green, wax, Kentucky, chili, baked, pinto, Mexican, or any other kind. Not only is it high in nourishment, but is particularly rich in that nutritious value referred to as protein — the stuff that imparts energy and drive to the bean eater and particularly the senators who need this sustaining force when they prepare for a long speech on the Senate floor.

Now, the man pictured above has served in the U.S. Senate since 2004. Chances are good that he’s already eaten his fair share of bean soup. He has also helped out in soup kitchens. But the campaign trail is rigorous and demanding, so leguminous reinforcements are probably in order. Then he’ll definitely be ready for the big job. Soup is served at all official dinners at the White House, be it turtle, clam, corn, potato, or squash. When it’s his turn, he’ll be able to serve visiting dignitaries, and the entire nation, a hearty soup for change.

He’ll follow in the footsteps of FDR, who loved crab soup with a splash of sherry; Dwight Eisenhower, who made his own vegetable soup with nasturtium stems; JFK and Jimmy Carter, who always ordered soup for lunch; Ronald Reagan, who loved hamburger soup with hominy; George H.W. Bush, who liked New England clam chowder; and Bill Clinton, who favored vegetable beef.

Think about it. Soup might just be the only thing Republicans and Democrats can ever agree on. And with the way things are going now, we need a President who is way full of beans.

What can you do? Make this soup as often as possible. Invite friends over to discuss the issues, and then vote for the candidate of your choice. Hopefully one day Capitol Hill will amount to more than a hill of beans, without all the gas.

(serves 6-8 people)

1 pound dry white beans, soaked overnight
1 meaty ham bone, or 2 smoked ham hocks
3 quarts water
3 onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 stalks celery, with leaves, finely chopped
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Garnish: minced parsley or chives

Strain the water from the soaked beans and put in a big pot with 3 quarts of water and the ham bone or hocks. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours.

Stir the chopped vegetables and herbs into the pot, and cook over low heat for another hour until the beans are nicely tender.

Remove the bones from the pot, cut off the meat into small bits, and return the meat to the pot, discarding the bones.

When ready to serve, ladle into bowls and garnish with pinches of herbs.

TIP:  Flavor enhanced if soup is eaten while watching Oprah.

(Thanks to Pat Solley at soupsong.com for the recipe and delicious political tidbits!)


16 thoughts on “political soup

  1. Interesting post! I love bean soup! And beans in general. Since I’m a vegetarian, I leave out the ham hock!
    I also love Obama. I hope last night’s defeat was just a little spurt of Hilary gas on the nomination trail!


  2. Apt metaphor, that…my Nana used to say that all politicians are “full of beans.” Ha!
    I love bean soup! Coincidentally, I made 15-bean soup for dinner last night. It’s such an easy dinner — perfect for me, ’cause I’m not a cook. I like to simmer them in a crock pot all day and serve ’em with a crunchy baguette, Oprah watching optional. 🙂


  3. That soup sounds good, and the political tidbits were awesome. Although I’d like to know why Sparky thought tea tannins were dangerous.
    Puts me in the mood to make split pea soup, actually. I must go see if I have a bag of split peas . . .


  4. Hooray!! That is one of my all time favorite soups.
    BTW, I am working on a pic for ya this week– but not today.
    Today is Decrease The Chaos Day.
    (I’m cleaning. ugh.)


  5. Oh, yum — 15 bean soup! Wow, you are a woman who likes variety. No plain white beans for you.
    Hope your house construction/repair has calmed down by now.


  6. There are actually several versions of Senate Bean Soup floating around. The Senate website has a more basic recipe, and also what is considered to be the historic one, which calls for mashed potatoes.
    Re.tannins: There are some opposing views about tea tannins — of course tea (especially green), has all those wonderful antioxidant benefits. But some say tea taken in large quantities can prevent iron absorption — probably only a concern if someone is already iron-deficient to begin with. Tea has also been linked to cancer of the esophagus and stomach.
    I think Sparky was more concerned with the flavor of his tea — the bitterness that resulted from overbrewing. It’s funny how I still remember his concern over tea tannins after all these years. I always take my teabags out after 2 minutes max (unless I’m drinking herbal teas).


  7. Honest to god, Jama, you come up with the cutest, quirkiest, most fascinating posts. I mean, lunch in the senate dining room with Sparky???? Full of beans, indeed…


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