Senate bean soup

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Senate bean soup
Senate bean soup, United States Capitol Visitor Center, April 2019.jpg
Senate bean soup at the Capitol Visitor Center
Alternative namesU.S. Senate Bean Soup
Place of originUnited States
Region or stateUnited States Senate
Main ingredientsNavy beans, ham hocks, sometimes mashed potatoes

U.S. Senate Bean Soup or simply Senate bean soup is a soup made with navy beans, ham hocks, and onion. It is served in the dining room of the United States Senate every day, in a tradition that dates back to the early 20th century. The original version included celery, garlic, parsley, and possibly mashed potatoes as well.


According to the Senate website, "Bean soup is on the menu in the Senate's restaurant every day. There are several stories about the origin of that mandate, but none has been corroborated."[1][2]

On September 14, 1943, rationing due to World War II left the Senate kitchen without enough navy beans to serve the soup. The Washington Times-Herald reported on its absence the following day. In a speech on the Senate floor in 1988, Bob Dole recounted the response to the crisis: "Somehow, by the next day, more beans were found and bowls of bean soup have been ladled up without interruption ever since."[3]


Senate versions[edit]

A 1967 memo from the Architect of the Capitol to the Librarian of the Senate describes the modern recipe, calling for "two pounds of small Michigan Navy Beans".[4]

John Egerton writes in Southern Food that the use of ham hocks suggests an origin in Southern cuisine. Although the legislators credited with institutionalizing the soup did not represent Southern states, most of the cooks at the time were black Southerners who would prepare bean soup in their own style.[5] There was a period when the Senate dining services omitted the ham and instead used a soup base. In 1984, a new manager discovered this practice; he reflects, "we went back to the ham hocks, and there was a real difference."[6]

Southern tradition also calls for cooking beans a very long time, usually over 10 hours or overnight so that the soup creates its own rich, thick gravy and has a much better flavor and texture than simply cooking three hours. Southern cooks would not have needed to add potatoes as a thickener, in fact if cooked in a traditional southern style, mashed potatoes would have altered the texture unfavorably and made it more bland in flavor. Also, the use of meat with bone still in it is traditional for flavor and texture for the overnight method. Southern cooks would also have added a little seasoning to cut the starchiness. The seasoning being in new England would likely have been a bay leaf or very small amount of oregano but not enough to be detected. Cooking over 10 hours requires adding more broth or water every so often. Today, southern cooks have the luxury of slow cookers and crockpots to cook beans overnight, but back in the early twentieth century, the beans would have soaked overnight in a large pot and cooked all day mostly without much fuss allowing kitchen staff to tend to other dishes and duties in the kitchen.

There are two Senate soup recipes:

The Famous Senate Restaurant Bean Soup Recipe
2 pounds dried navy beans
four quarts hot water
1 1/2 pounds smoked ham hocks
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste
Wash the navy beans and run hot water through them until they are slightly whitened. Place beans into pot with hot water. Add ham hocks and simmer approximately three hours in a covered pot, stirring occasionally. Remove ham hocks and set aside to cool. Dice meat and return to soup. Lightly brown the onion in butter. Add to soup. Before serving, bring to a boil and season with salt and pepper. Serves 8.[2]

Bean Soup Recipe (for five gallons)
3 pounds dried navy beans
2 pounds of ham and a ham bone
1 quart mashed potatoes
5 onions, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
four cloves garlic, chopped
half a bunch of parsley, chopped
Clean the beans, then cook them dry. Add ham, bone and water and bring to a boil. Add potatoes and mix thoroughly. Add chopped vegetables and bring to a boil. Simmer for one hour before serving.[2]

Reviews and variants[edit]

According to The Best Soups in the World, "most reports ... suggest that it unfortunately leaves a lot to be desired."[7]


As of 2010, members of the public can try the soup between 11:30am and 3pm in the Senate dining room. There is a dress code, and entry requires a "request letter" from a senator. The soup is also available to the general public at the Capitol Visitor Center restaurant on a rotating basis, between 7:30am and 4pm,[8] and in the Longworth Cafeteria, between 7:30am and 2:30pm.[9]

The Project Greek Island bunker, a Cold War-era emergency relocation center for Congress, included a cafeteria that would have served Senate bean soup.[10]

Past prices for a bowl include:

  • 1940: $0.15[11]
  • 1996: $1.00[12]
  • 1997: $1.10[13]
  • 2004: $4.50[14]
  • 2008: $5.00[15]
  • 2010: $6.00[16]
  • 2014: $3.60 for a 16-ounce bowl

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Senate 2003.
  2. ^ a b c "Official recipe, Senate Bean Soup". United States Senate. Retrieved March 26, 2014.
  3. ^ Frey 2003.
  4. ^ Kessler 1998, p. 257.
  5. ^ Egerton 1993, p. 274.
  6. ^ Kessler 1998, p. 74.
  7. ^ Wright 2009, pp. 131–132.
  8. ^ Salwa 2010, p. 159.
  9. ^ Salwa 2009, p. 141.
  10. ^ Leebaert 2003, p. 241.
  11. ^ Pearson & Allen 1940, p. 7.
  12. ^ Carlson 2003, pp. 218–219.
  13. ^ Kessler 1997, p. 48.
  14. ^ Rubin 2004, pp. 8, 84.
  15. ^ Rubin 2008, p. 94.
  16. ^ Rubin 2010, p. 81.


External links[edit]