Recollections from Shirley

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Soup and sandwich, one of the pinnacles of modern pairings.

Today is my mother’s birthday and she turns 88. Still cooking, still frugal, still sharp as a tack.

Recently, I asked my mother about a soup she made often when she had kids at home, Calico Bean Soup, something I loved, something that may not be such a hit with kids – the ones I know – these days. What has changed? I do not know. Still, I’m going to make it when the weather turns cold again, upping the ham to win over the teenage boys around here.

There are lots and lots of Calico Bean Soup recipes on the internets. Did you know it was a thing? I did not.

In my mother’s words:

I made that bean soup here (in Alexandria, VA after we moved from Wisconsin in 1966) because the church sold the packages of beans.

I called two old members of the church, each of whom remembered something. One informant thought there were 13 kinds of peas and beans, but no one is sure anymore. It was called Calico Bean soup and had the following: at least 2 colors of lentils, kidney beans, lima beans, Great Northerns, pea beans, black beans, adzuki beans (hard to find and not many used), maybe yellow peas, maybe green split peas.

They went to a  health food store in Alexandria to buy the beans/peas, then mixed up the beans in a big garbage can, packaged them, and included a recipe using a ham bone and an onion.  

Jo Jackley said that once it began to cook, all the beans turned the same color, but the shapes and sizes were different. Bea Bobotek still has a package from some years ago.

Calico Bean Soup

From A Hollin Hall Sampler” page 14, available (still!) at Amazon

This is a good basic recipe which you can vary to suit your own tastes. One of our church cooks uses 2-3 pounds of beef short ribs instead of the ham bone, also adding 1 can of beef bouillon for more beef flavor. Toward the end of the cooking time, she adds cut-up  vegetables, carrots, celery, and onions and pops in some pasta at the very end.

Package of beans sold by church, containing 15 kinds of beans, both plain and exotic.

Wash beans thoroughly. Place in a large kettle, cover with water. Add 2 Tbsp. salt and soak overnight. drain in the morning.

To the beans, add: Ham bone or 2 ham hocks and water to cover.
Simmer slowly 2 1/2 -3 hours.
Add: 1 large onion, chopped
1 28-oz. can tomatoes
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
1 large pod red pepper (optional) or 1 tsp. chili powder
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Few dashes Tabasco (optional)
Simmer another 30 minutes or so.

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