It was an old standby, a large pot of flavorful and filling soup that fed an army using pantry staples and leftover scraps.
My mother made yankee bean soup when she had a leftover ham bone and bits of ham and wasn’t planning to make her split pea soup. She didn’t have an actual recipe for it, but used the onions, carrots, and celery that was the base of most of her soups and stews, and she threw in whatever other vegetables she had in the refrigerator.
Most cooks had their own versions of a bean soup, I doubt my mother made it exactly the same twice herself. She varied the beans too, usually white navy beans, but sometimes pinto beans or even yellow eyes. Sometimes, she omitted the tomato and made a milk broth instead, using canned milk, my dad loved it that way.
Ready for company
I had two cups of cranberry beans sitting in the pantry calling my name, and on a recent cold afternoon with an impending snow storm, I decided having a large pot of soup available was a really good idea. I’m glad I did since I ended up with the grandkids coming over for soup, grilled cheese, and a rousing game of Uno!
I had just gleaned most of the herbs from my garden in anticipation of the snow, so I had some beautiful sage and rosemary on my counter begging to be used before I dried them. To these, I added a couple of bay leaves, and some hot Hungarian paprika. The vegetables I had waiting in my crisper were rutabaga and snow peas, so those were drafted into service as well.
A few changes
The only real change to Mom’s technique besides omitting the ham bone and swapping out the beans was adding the tomato paste to give that flavor a boost, and this proved to be a good idea. She also never added the pesto or paprika, but since she like hot stuff, I’m sure she would approve.
There’s really not a lot of effort to this soup. Most of the time is hands-off waiting. After the beans are cooked and the vegetables chopped, you can assemble this in moments. In a pinch, you can use two cans of no-salt added beans of your choice, liquid and all.
Yankee Cranberry Bean Soup
This soup is hearty and filling, and is perfect for Sunday night supper.
2 cups dried *cranberry beans, or pinto beans
1 large or two small cloves of garlic
2 tbsp. butter or vegan butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 large leek, diced
2 carrots, cut into coins
2 ribs celery, diced
2 cups diced rutabaga or turnip
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 or 5 large sage leaves, minced
2 rosemary sprigs, minced
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. hot paprika, or to taste
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1 quart stock of choice
A few ounces of chopped up snow peas, or a cup of thawed peas
Salt and pepper
Drizzle of basil oil, below, if desired
Cook the beans. If you want to use cranberry beans in this, you will probably have to start with dried beans. You can soak them overnight and cook them the next day in water for two hours, or until just tender.
In the instant pot or pressure cooker, follow directions for cooking dried beans, no need to pre-soak, which I like. In my pot, I cooked them for 25 minutes and let release naturally. In all three methods, add one of the garlic cloves, split in half while cooking. Once the beans are cooked, keep them warm and ready. You should have about a quart of beans and cooking liquid (tons of flavor and nutrients), which you will use. You may substitute two cans of a favorite bean and their juices here as well.
While the beans are cooking, prep the vegetables so they are ready when you want them: dice or cut up the leeks, carrots, celery, and rutabaga. Mince the three cloves of garlic along with the sage and rosemary, place in a small dish and add the paprika and tomato paste.
In a large stock pot, over medium high, heat the oil and butter. Once hot, add the leek, carrots, celery, and rutabaga. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the leek softens.
Make a little spot in the middle of the pan and add the garlic, herbs and tomato paste. Using a flat wooden spoon or spatula, keep this moving around until everything is fragrant and the tomato paste darkens in color.
Add the tomatoes – chop them up a little – stock, and reserved quart of beans and their liquid. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to low and cook for at least 40 minutes, or until the carrots and rutabaga are tender and everything has married nicely. You can also do this part in the oven set at 250 for a longer period, just let it blend slowly, and don’t worry about the clock.
Add the snow peas and cook for a couple of minutes until these are tender. If using thawed peas, they only need to warm through.
Drizzle with a little basil oil or pesto if desired!
This is basically a pesto without the cheese and nuts.
In a small food processor or mortar and pestle, combine a cup of roughly chopped fresh basil leaves, two cloves of garlic, and 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil. Process until smooth and add any additional olive oil and salt and pepper to make it how you want it. For the bean soup, you might want to thin it a bit more to drizzle.
The Vermont cranberry bean is an heirloom variety that has been used in New England for hundreds of years. Popular among seed swappers, they have distinctive cranberry-streaked pods and beans, a smooth texture, and lovely sweet taste. There is also a red Abenaki cranberry bean that is solid in color, but much the same in culture and cooking.
Both were used by the indigenous population well before European settlers, and made their way around the world. In Italy, for example, the bean has been grown since the 1900s and is called borlotti bean. You might find them in an Italian market as such.
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