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Weekly Column: Bean Soup--A Senate Tradition With Idaho Connections

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

For more than 100 years, bean soup has been on the menu in the U.S. Senate.  The soup is a Senate tradition with Idaho historical connections.  Senate historians write, “There are competing stories about the origin of the mandate that bean soup be served daily. According to one story, the Senate’s bean soup tradition began early in the 20th century at the request of Senator Fred Dubois of Idaho, who as chair of the committee overseeing the Senate Restaurant, passed a resolution in the committee requiring that bean soup be on the menu daily. Another story attributes the request to Senator Knute Nelson of Minnesota, who expressed his fondness for the soup in 1903 and insisted that it be on the menu each day.”

I, of course, am happy to believe the first story crediting Idaho with this Senate tradition.  I am deeply proud of Idaho, where sensibility walks hand in hand with resourcefulness.  Therefore, it makes great sense that the hearty and tasty Senate bean soup would have Idaho roots.  And the fact that it has remained on the menu for all these years as tastes and diets change reinforces the notion that the bean soup simply has to have some Idaho fortitude in its foundation. 

There are variations on the recipe, and the recipe served in the Senate today is as follows:

The Famous Senate Restaurant Bean Soup Recipe

  • 2 pounds dried navy beans
  • 4 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.

Idaho is such an agricultural producing powerhouse that it is fitting Idaho plays a role in nourishing lawmakers.  Just looking at the ingredients in the current recipe, Idaho ranks in the top five in the country in dry beans, onions and milk production alone.  A recipe of the bean soup credited to Senator Dubois also contains mashed potatoes—an Idaho staple.  As highlighted in Idaho State Department of Agriculture statistics, Idaho farmers and ranchers produce far more than can be consumed in our state.  Idaho producers feed people across our state, country and world, including our nation’s capital. 

The Senate is steeped in tradition, ranging from the annual reading of President George Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address, to the daily opening of Senate sessions, to Senate chamber seating to bean soup and more.  As I walk the halls of the U.S. Senate feeling very blessed to get to represent the great people of Idaho in this extraordinary seat of freedom, hope and decorum, I take great pride in the bit of Idaho sustenance being served up daily in our Capitol as it fuels needed discussions about how best to govern our great country. 

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