Souptale: I'll tell you a story involving this soup, and I hope you won't be offended
by it. Here goes:
The Winter of 1995 it flooded. Our neighbors across the street were on a
lower elevation, closer to the Russian River, and as it continued to rain,
their home was threatened. They (let's call them John & Mary) asked me and
my husband if they could come & stay at our house.
We said sure - you know, good neighbors & all that. They came over with
practically all their worldly possessions, their two cats, and a litter box
the size of a small child's wading pool.
It continued to rain over the next several days and the neighbors now had
water in their living space of their home. The waters continued to rise and
pretty soon the river was up to the 2nd step of my front porch. More rain
was predicted and the roads were closed. They were flying people out by
helicopter, people were leaving in boats. My husband Jim and I called our
other neighbor, George, who lives up behind us on an even higher elevation.
His place is a summer cabin with one bedroom and a woodstove. He lived in
San Francisco and usually only came up on weekends or in the summer. We
asked George if we could move up to his place if we had to evacuate our
house. He graciously said yes, and told us where to find the key.
Meanwhile, impatient neighbor John has broken a window to get into George's
house. He and Mary rush in and usurp the only bedroom, leaving Jim and
myself on army cots in the front room. They leave their cats & their
enormous litter box in our upstairs guest room.
Fortunately, I had made a big pot of this black bean soup, and I served it
to everyone for dinner. John asks if there's any meat in the soup and I tell
him yes, ham hocks. He turns up his nose, shoves the bowl away and pushes
back from the table, an angry vegan. The rest of us continue to huddle over
our steaming bowls in the cold cabin. The rain pours, we are collecting
rainwater in buckets to wash with, and to pour down the toilet because we
now have no water, and no power either.
It gets dark very early and we light candles.
John goes off into the bathroom as Jim, Mary and I continue our meal. John
comes out after awhile, walks to the middle of the room and says, "I have an
announcement to make. The sewer system isn't going to take much more of
this. I have one hundred and forty-seven plastic Safeway bags, and pretty
soon we'll have to start defecating in those, although that may pose some
problems for me, because, as a vegetarian, I have a tendency to splatter."
He actually says this, with a straight face.
I get up, and say to Jim, "Uh, honey, why don't you come outside on the
porch with me and have a cigarette?"
Jim says, "I don't want a cigarette."
Me: "Oh, yes you do."
And I take his arm, lead him outside and shut the door. I then grab him by
the shirtfront and say, "Jim, I don't care what you have to do, or who you
have to call, but GET ME THE F*** OUT OF HERE! Everybody has their limits
but mine stops just short of defecating into plastic Safeway bags with this
clown. GET ME OUT OF HERE!!!!"
Jim agrees. He calls his chief at the San Francisco Fire Department, and he
in turn calls someone else at the Office of Emergency Services, and they in
turn call the sheriff. Two frogmen in a Zodiac boat come and fetch me, my
husband, our duffel bag of clothes, medicines and a few essentials, and our
cats in their carrier. We are going up the main street of Guerneville in a
boat. "Oh, look, is that the roof of the hardware store? Is that the roof of
the car-wash?" It is extremely surreal, and depressing, to see our town this
Eventually we ended up being evac'd out via Army transport truck, up on big
huge enormous wheels, as we had missed the last helicopter out that day. It
took 2 hours over mountain roads to get to Sebastopol, usually only about 15
minutes away by car. We were taken to a Red Cross Shelter which looked as if they'd hung a sign
that said, "If you have lice, scabies, a personality disorder, poor hygiene,
a drinking problem, a lot of tattoos and very few teeth, come on down!"
Because that was who was there. Fortunately my brother-in-law picked us up
there and took us to stay with my sister in Novato. After that we moved to a
motel, until the waters had receded and the rain had stopped. Then we had
the big clean up to do. The neighbors cats had crapped all over the guest
room. John had let everyone in the neighborhood use our phone and there was
mud tracked all over our hardwood floors in the kitchen. We were lucky not
to have gotten any water in the living space of the house, just about a foot
of water in the garage.
I made another pot of bean soup, and it was a long time before we felt much
like talking to John & Mary.
My wonderful husband, Jim, passed away this March. He loved my bean soup -
he loved everything I made. He said I was the best cook ever. What a
pleasure it was to cook for him - it was so easy to make him happy. Food was
a love-offering, one of the ways I took care of him, and showed that I
cared. It was much more than physical nourishment. Soup is such a comfort
He liked simple things, well-made--bean soup, split pea soup, beef stew,
chili, fricassee of chicken, etc. Most men seem to like that "basic" kind of
food that sticks to your ribs and leaves you warm inside. I sure miss
cooking for him - just one of the nine million ways I miss him. He was a
good husband, my best friend, and a heroic man. He was a San Francisco
firefighter for over 31 years, and he had beaten cancer, and fought the good
fight against heart and lung disease for almost 9 years before he succumbed.
He was one of the strongest people I have ever known. I'm so proud of him.
Drain the soaked the beans, rinse, and fill a large pot with enough
water to cover the beans with at least 4 inches of water. Add ham hocks and
bring to a boil, then turn down to a slow simmer. Add onion and
the garlic, which you have smashed with the back of a knife slightly. Add
carrots and celery. Add the rest of the seasonings except cinnamon & vinegar. Cover loosely and simmer for several hours (I like to take a nap while it's simmering). Stir
occasionally to keep beans from sticking to the bottom of the pot. You want
to cook it until the carrots are very tender and the onions are practically
liquefied. If it gets too thick, add some more water.
Then, take it off the heat and pick out the meat and bones, and set aside.
Discard all bone fragments and gristle. Strain the beans and broth and put
about half the beans into a blender or food processor, along with the
carrots (along with the the onion, celery & garlic, which will be almost
liquefied at this point). Whiz until it is thick and smooth. Return this
mixture to the broth, add the rest of the whole beans, and the meat. Mix
well. Add splash of vinegar and dash of cinnamon, and bring it to a boil,
then turn it off. Taste to correct seasoning. If you like a more spicy hot
soup, you can add chili powder.
I serve this with a dollop of real dairy sour cream, the fattening kind,
chopped cilantro and finely chopped red onion. With a pan of cornbread and
perhaps a nice tossed green salad, this makes a great lunch or dinner. It is
even better the next day, and it freezes well.
I don't add any salt to this soup, because very often the ham hocks are
themselves very salty, and also because I happen not to like salty things.
If you like more salt, you can either add some sea salt to the water you
boil the beans in, or better yet, add salt at the table. This soup can be
made vegetarian - just don't use the ham hock.
All quantities are approximate and seasoning can be adjusted according to
preference. The savory is a must with the beans, though, as is the bay leaf
and the coriander. You can omit the cumin, but I think it tastes better with
I just made this soup out of my head one day. We have drippy, wet winters
here in Sonoma County, and here by the Russian River, it floods. We're above
the flood line, but often the roads are closed and undriveable, and a pot of
bean soup on the stove is heartening, warming, and always tastes good on a
cold, damp day.