October 18, 2017 | POSTED IN

The (Senators’) Navy Bean Soup


I’ve spent the last few months with my wife reorganizing our home now that the boys have moved away. We have unearthed several old photos along the way. This one of me, taken in the dining room of the U.S. Senate, brought back some memories. Along with me are my classmate Larry Anderson, and senators Len Jordan (REP) and Frank Church (DEM). Though the Vietnam war still caused partisan divide, there was a civility in those days that allowed members of Congress to work and lunch together.* We were better for it.

The debate at the table that day was the proper claim to the origins of the navy bean soup that is served daily in the Senate Dining Room. Being staunch Idahoans, Senators Jordan and Church sided with the claim that Fred Dubois, a rather controversial Idaho senator, introduced it to the Senate in 1900. Of course, Senator Mondale at the adjoining table supported the claim of Knuth Nelson, a senator from Minnesota, who presumably introduced the recipe in 1903. Both recipes can be found on the Senate website.

Of course, Dubois’ recipe had potatoes in it. But it was generally agreed at the table that potatoes were unnecessary. However, the senators both agreed that the recipes benefitted from some small additions, and Senator Church was adamant that the onions be sauteed to sweetness before adding to the soup.

So here, after all these years, is a bipartisan recipe for a navy bean soup penned that day in 1971.


  • 1 pound dry navy beans
  • 1 smoked ham hock
  • 1 onion (chopped)
  • 1/2 Cup celery (chopped)
  • 1/2 Cup carrot (chopped)
  • 2 cloves garlic (chopped)
  • 1 tsp thyme (dried)


Traditional methods call for soaking the dried beans overnight and then preparing the soup on the stovetop in either a Dutch Oven or large pot. I prefer to use the slow cooker. I rinse the beans and cover them with water the night before. The next morning I drain them, put them in the slow cooker with the ham hock, cover with water and set the cooker to low for eight hours. When I get home, I add the thyme to the slow cooker and remove the ham hock. I take the meat from the bone, chop it up, and return it to the slow cooker. On the side, I saute the onion, garlic, celery, and carrots until the onions are slightly caramelized. Then I add them to the slow cooker and let them sit on low until the carrots soften.

This soup is nice for a cold winter’s night with some warm fresh bread. A glass of Cabernet Franc is the perfect accompaniment to this rustic supper.

* The two senators worked together to preserve a vast area of Idaho for future generations. In 1980, the River of No Return Wilderness Area was established in Idaho. Renamed the Frank Church Wilderness Area in 1984, it is the largest contiguous wilderness area in the lower United States.