“There was nothing to do but sit huddled in coats and shawls, close to the stove.
“I’m glad I put beans to soak last night,” said Ma. She lifted the lid of the bubbling kettle and quickly popped in a spoonful of soda. The boiling beans roared, foaming up, but did not quite run over.
“There’s a little bit of salt pork to put in them too,” Ma said.
Now and then she spooned up a few beans and blew on them. When their skins split and curled, she drained the soda-water from the kettle and filled it again with hot water. She put in the bit of fat pork.
“There’s nothing like good hot bean soup on a cold day,” said Pa.”
—Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Long Winter
I chose the vegetarian option for my entree course: baked bean soup with a cornbread muffin. The soup itself was wonderful, brimming with a wide variety of tender beans, carrots, onions, and a lovely light broth made from the liquid in which the beans were cooked. The cornbread muffin was dense, made only with cornmeal and water, but I enjoyed the texture and subtle corn flavor.
The Little House Cookbook doesn’t have a recipe for baked bean soup per se, but suggests that if you wish to sample bean soup as the Ingallses knew it, start with the following recipe for baked beans and tasting the broth. As the author of The Little House Cookbook says, “How good a soup it is will depend largely on how cold you are, and how hungry.”
Navy, pea, or “little white” beans, 3 cups
Baking soda, 1 teaspoon
Salt pork, 1/4 to 1/2 pound [Bacon can be substituted.]
Molasses, 1/4 cup
Optional: onions, 3 small, cut in chunks; green peppers, 2, cut in strips; additional molasses
1. The night before cooking, put beans in saucepan or kettle to soak in water to cover (1 quart or more).
2. Next morning, change the water and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in baking soda and watch it fizz. Continue to simmer. After about 40 minutes test for tenderness; when the skins of two beans held in a spoon crack as you blow on them, they are done.
3. Pour the cloudy yellowish liquid off of the tender beans, cover with 5 cups of fresh water and return to a simmer, adding salt that has been slashed to expose more surface. In 30 minutes this liquid will be ready to pour off, either to use in bean soup or to add later to the beans.
4. Grease milk pan [any oven-safe flat pan 12 inches in diameter and 3 inches deep] with the cooked salt pork. Leave pork in pan and pour in beans. If you are adding vegetables, distribute them around the pan. Dribble on 1/4 cup of molasses, add water or bean broth just to cover, and put in oven.
5. The baking temperature will depend on when you want to serve the beans. At 250°F they will take about 8 hours to brown nicely; at 350°F only 4 hours are needed. In either case you may need to add more water as the beans cook, since they should not dry out until the last hour of baking.
6. Serve with a small pitcher of molasses to accommodate modern palates.
Makes 6 servings and leftovers.
As with the homemade sausage that I wrote about yesterday, making cornbread in the 1800’s was also a laborious process, which included harvesting the corn from the plant, cutting the corn off of the cob, drying the corn, and grinding it into cornmeal—whether done at home or at a mill.
Drippings or pork rind
Cornmeal, 3 cups stoneground yellow
Salt, 1 teaspoon
1. Grease the skillet or bake-oven well with drippings or pork rind. Heat the oven to 400°F.
2. Mix cornmeal and salt in bowl. Pour in 1 cup of boiling water and stir. Add more boiling water, 1/4 cup at a time, until you have a stiff dough that can be shaped with the hands.
3. Divide the dough, shape it, and press it into the greased bake-oven as Ma did. Cover and bake until dough surface is crusty, 30 to 40 minutes. Cut loaves in wedges and serve warm with more drippings or molasses.
Makes 6 servings.
Since Local Harvest Cafe’s chef, Clara Moore, served the baked bean soup and cornbread as a vegetarian option, she didn’t use the pork called for in either recipe. I loved this dish the way she prepared it, but I can only imagine how great it would be with the pork. Hmm … baked bean soup and cornbread for dinner this weekend?