How to Make Senate Bean Soup

Posted by The Home School in the Woods Team on

While teaching children about the role of government in our society is essential, it can be daunting to learn, with lots of memorization and dull textbooks. There’s a way, however, to make learning about the presidential election process fun (even for you as a parent!).

So what’s the secret sauce, you ask? Well, it’s not actually sauce – it’s soup! Senate Bean Soup. This 20th-century recipe is filled with historical facts and flavors that will give your kids a better understanding of what Washington, D.C. is really like. 

For more information on why you should add historical recipes to your homeschool curriculum, read our post, Adding Interest to History with Recipes.

What Is Senate Bean Soup?

Senate Bean Soup is an American recipe served in U.S. Senate restaurants every day since the early 20th century. This hearty soup is made with savory ingredients we all know and love, such as garlic, onion, mashed potatoes, and ham. 

It has been suggested that the dish has southern origins due to the recipe calling for ham hocks, an ingredient southern cooks used to make soups richer in flavor. On the topic of southern tradition, the preparation for this historical recipe would have looked a lot different than it does today, with our handy dandy crockpots. 

The navy beans the recipe calls for would have typically taken around 10 hours to cook. The beans would have first been soaked overnight and then cooked all day while staff tended to other dishes. Thanks to this nifty trick, southern cooks wouldn’t have used the mashed potatoes this recipe calls for, since the beans would have naturally thickened the soup and created a gravy-like texture.

The Roots Behind Senate Bean Soup

According to the Senate’s website, there’s some controversy on the soup’s exact origin. Some say the soup became a tradition at the request of Senator Fred Dubois of Idaho, however other stories claim Senator Knute Nelson of Minnesota to have first made the request due to his love for the soup. 

Regardless of how the soup came to be, it remains as a staple in the Senate’s dining room in Washington, D.C. 

It is said that there was a “crisis” the day the kitchen was left without enough ingredients to make the soup. On September 14, 1943, the Washington Times-Herald reported that World War II rationing left the cooks without enough navy beans – a crucial ingredient in the soup’s recipe.

Today, Senate Bean Soup is served at 11 different restaurants located in various U.S. Senate office buildings. Members of the public are allowed to dine at one of the restaurants with a letter of approval from a senator.  

Since most of us don’t have the luxury of knowing a famous senator, we have a replica of the recipe you and your kids can make at home!

Senate Bean Soup Recipe

This soup is easy to make and is a great meal for lunch or dinner. Plus, if you or a family member have dietary restrictions, this recipe is naturally gluten-free and can easily be made dairy-free by swapping out the butter with a plant-based, lactose-free butter. 

You can find this historical recipe in our Activity Pak: Make-A-State.

Note: this recipe makes a lot of soup! So, if you aren’t looking to feed an entire army, we recommend cutting it in half. 


  • 2 Ibs. dried navy beans
  • 4 qts. hot water
  • 1-½ Ibs. smoked ham hocks
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 tbs. butter
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced 
  • 3 cups mashed potatoes
  • ¼ cup parsley, chopped


  1. Wash and strain the navy beans with hot tap water, and carefully pick through to remove any possible stones. 
  2. Place the beans in a large stockpot, along with the hot water and ham hocks. 
  3. Cover and simmer for three hours. Be sure to stir occasionally. 
  4. Once the three hours are up, remove the ham hocks and set aside until they are cool enough to handle. Remove the meat from the bone and place it back into the water in the stockpot. 
  5. Melt the butter in the skillet and then add the onion and celery. Sauté until they are translucent or soft. 
  6. Add the onion, celery, and remaining ingredients to the stockpot. 
  7. Bring soup to a boil.
  8. Lower the heat and simmer for up to an hour, or until the flavors have melded together. 
  9. Enjoy with your family and savor the flavors of 20th-century Washington, D.C.!

More Than Just a Recipe

To some, this soup appears to be any other dish. However, the truth is this is an all-American recipe that we are fortunate enough to still have in our society. It’s incredible to think of all the famous senators that have eaten this soup and continue to today. 

We encourage you to make this an extra special event by inviting family and friends over for dinner. This allows your children to share the history behind the soup and all they’ve learned about our government. 

We’ve also found the teaching method of dress-up to be a favorite for children of all ages. To add another element of fun, your family can dress up as famous senators, a southern cook, or a “special guest” that would have been invited to the dinner party. 

This will give your kids a chance to really get into character and give them a reason to want to learn more about that period and the person they’re dressing up as. Plus, the memories made are priceless. For more tips and tricks on historical dress up, be sure to check out our blog post, Imagination + History = Dress Up.

Stay Tuned for More Recipes

There you have it folks, a hands-on project that will give your homeschoolers a better taste of politics in the U.S.

If you’re looking for a way to introduce your child to the United States presidential election process through hands-on activities, consider using our Lap-Pak: U.S. Elections. This is a great way to walk your child through the establishment of our country’s government and the various aspects of a presidential campaign and how a U.S. president is chosen.

Thanks again for reading our post, and be sure to share this recipe with your friends on social media. We plan on posting more recipes from our Home School in the Woods projects, so stay tuned. And don’t forget to tell us in the comments below which eras you’d like to see recipes for!

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