Ham & Bean Soup

IMG_3212One of the great things about growing up around a bunch of farm women is the endless exposure to tips and tricks that are often left out of recipes. One of the worst things about trying to emulate said women is they don’t always feel the tips and tricks are worth noting in a recipe. It’s not always intentional … wink, wink.

Did you ever see the episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” where Ray’s wife, Debra, gets a recipe from Ray’s mom, Marie? And Debra follows this recipe over and over and cannot make the dish taste anything close to Marie’s? She finally discovers that Marie has changed the label on a spice jar to protect the secret ingredient and thus preserve her family’s respect for her cooking skills.

My ham and bean soup recipe involves an unintentional omission. The best part is, it was a recipe from my mom!  When she would cook a bone-in ham for our family, she would turn the leftovers into the most incredible and satisfying ham and bean soup. The beans were perfectly cooked. Little chunks of ham were swimming around the broth with the carrots, onions and celery. Every bite was … well, I’m getting carried away into fantasy-land here but it really was that good!

So when I started making ham dinners for my family, I was anxious to duplicate her soup. She gave me the recipe and I made it and was so excited to share it. I took my first spoonful and thought … “Wait a minute! This isn’t even close!” How could I have possibly screwed up such a simple recipe? Was it the ham I used? Why was the broth so …weak!?!

And here is where the “unexpected ingredient” which I mentioned in my previous post comes into play. I was with my mom some time later when she was making ham and bean soup. I was watching her every move … how she cut things, the order she added them, the expression on her face as she put it together. I was in full-on student-following-master mode!

She went to the refrigerator and pulled out an apple. So she needed a snack. Ok, I can wait. But no … she cut it into quarters, removed the core and dropped those four pieces of apple right into the pot!


There was no APPLE mentioned in the recipe she gave me! And I called her on it. Her response? “Well, sometimes I add a little apple?”

Sometimes?  SOMETIMES?

Shrug. How much difference could one apple make?

Yep … that was the crucial ingredient. It completely changed the flavor of the broth. One. Apple.

Since then I have made wonderful ham and bean soup. Occasionally I rush the cooking of the beans and they end up a little tough (see tip below), but the broth is spot-on when I include the amazing apple.

Ham & Bean Soup

Ham bone, “ugly” pieces, and drippings
1 cup dry navy beans, rinsed
2-3 quarts of water (thicker or thinner soup)
1 Jonathon/Fuji/Gala apple, cored and quartered
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf

In a large stock pot, combine first four ingredients. If there isn’t much meat left on the bone, add a few more pieces from the leftovers (enough to end up with about 2 cups of diced ham pieces). Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer one hour or until beans are tender.

In a second pan, combine carrots, celery, onion, bay leaf, salt and just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil; simmer 15-20 minutes or until carrots are tender. 

While the ham and beans cook, the apple will slowly disintegrate leaving only the peel (see pictures above). When beans are tender, remove from heat and discard apple peels. Remove ham pieces and bone from soup. When cool enough to handle, pull ham off of bone. Shred or cut ham chunks into bite-sized pieces and return, along with the bone, to the soup. Add vegetables and the broth in the second pan to the stock pot. 

Allow to cool and refrigerate overnight. 

FOOD TIP: Soup tastes better when it has rested for at least one day. This is a must for this soup.

When ready to serve, remove bay leaf and ham bone and gently reheat the portion you need. 

FOOD TIP: When you test the beans to make sure they are tender, test more than one. Some will cook a little faster than others.

I know my mom is blushing a little as she reads this. After all, it wasn’t like she purposefully sabotaged the recipe just to make sure her soup was always better than mine. She doesn’t have a dishonest bone in her body and she likes nothing better than to see other people happy.

Maybe she was just insuring I would always come home to share a bowl of soup with her.

Smart. Very smart.

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3 thoughts on “Ham & Bean Soup

  1. […] What was left in the bag is pure flavor! The drippings are typically used to make the gravy. Since I wasn’t making gravy this time, I poured the drippings into a mason jar. When we had stuffed ourselves … I mean, enjoyed very reasonable portions … my husband carved the rest of the ham, leaving a good portion of meat on/around the bone. The slices, drizzled with a couple tablespoons of the drippings to keep them moist, we reserved for sandwiches.  The ham bone, some of the not-so-pretty cuts and the rest of the drippings went to the refrigerator to make amazing ham and bean soup. […]

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