A long simmer of navy beans and salt pork gives a creamy Yankee Bean Soup that is enhanced by molasses and a few vegetables.
The so-called navy bean is no more than the South American common white bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), standard fare among the US Navy in the 19th century for its abundance, affordability, nutrition and ease of storage and preparation. This dish was a common one-pot meal throughput New England and the upper Midwest, an inexpensive and filling bean pot left to cook for hours over the fire.
This particular soup is a variation adapted from a recipe handed down among the Amish, Pennsylvania communities who refer to most anyone outside their community as “Yankee,” regardless of origin. The beans are flavored here with salt-cured pork—essentially, unsmoked bacon without the long dry cure—which provides enough fat and salt to season the beans through the simmer.
Assisted by the luscious pork fat, the beans soften as they cook and reach a creamy consistency, which is enhanced at the finish with a bean purée and a touch of dairy. Additions can be customized with root vegetables, leafy greens or aromatics but avoid anything too strong or bitter, or that will not break down and remains tough. Small cubes of potatoes would work well, but avoid sweet potatoes as they do not stand up to a long simmer.
Flavorants are kept to a minimum, relying on the pork itself to shine through the beans. Just a touch of molasses is needed, not enough to sweeten the dish but only add a shade of color. Of course, adding thyme, marjoram or garlic would not be unwelcome, depending on one’s preference.
Serve as a one-dish meal with chewy toasted sourdough and plenty of butter.
Yankee Bean Soup
1 lb navy beans (dried)
6 oz salt pork
½ yellow onion
1 stalk of celery
½ c half-and-half
1 T molasses
1 Chop the salt pork and add to beans with a bay leaf. Cover with 6 c water and cook over low heat, covered, for 6-8 hours.
2 Dice the carrot, onion and celery and sauté in oil until soft, about 5-10 min.
3 Remove 1 c of bean and purée with the dairy and add back to the beans to thicken. Add the vegetables and molasses, and season to taste.