Take two pounds of number one white Michigan beans. Cover the beans with water and allow them to soak overnight. The next day, drain the beans and re-cover them with water. Add a smoked ham hock and simmer the whole thing slowly for about four hours until the beans are cooked tender. Then add salt and pepper to suit taste. Just before serving, bruise the beans with a large spoon ladle, enough to cloud the broth.
That recipe serves about six people or about 435, depending on the context.
That latter number is because the recipe paraphrased above (quoted, almost, mostly with a few definite and indefinite articles added) is from the U.S. House of Representatives’ official menu for its members’ dining hall. If you can gain access to the dining hall (legally; please do not get arrested) you can try the soup yourself. They’re serving it today, in fact.
They serve it every day — and have since the summer of 1904.
As anyone who was on my 8th grade field trip to this nation’s capital will certainly attest, Washington, D.C. can get uncomfortably hot. Soup isn’t a great summertime food, especially when temperatures outside approach three digits (Fahrenheit, of course!), and it therefore doesn’t make a lot of sense to prep bowls of bean soup in that weather. Omitting it from the day’s menu would be eminently reasonable.
Thankfully for us purveyors of odd trivia, American politicians have a longstanding tradition of being patently unreasonable. And on a hot, hot summer day in 1904, when the kitchen staff decided there’d be no bean soup today, the Speaker of the House, the honorable Joseph Gurney Cannon (pictured) from the great state of Illinois, lost his cool. The Office of the Historian of the House of Representatives repeats the quote on its website:
“Thunderation,” roared Speaker of the House Joe Cannon of Illinois. “I had my mouth set for bean soup! From now on, hot or cold, rain, snow, or shine, I want it on the menu every day.”
He got his wish. The soup stayed on the daily menu, where it remains to this day using the same recipe — all because the Speaker of the House demanded it.
From the Archives: Fight Club: What happens in Congress when there’s no bean soup? (Okay, that’s probably not the cause of what happened in that article.)
Related: “36 Recipes for Bean Soup,” an ebook.