Friday, February 24, 2012

Mayflower Soup

by Sheila Connolly

Unless this weather starts playing tricks, spring will soon be upon us and we'll start thinking of lighter food.  I figured I'd better get this hearty soup/stew recipe posted before that happens.

Actually, I'm very proud that this dish was made solely of locally grown foods.  Nearby Plymouth has a lovely farmers' market (I think I've mentioned it here before), and in winter they hold it indoors at Plimoth Plantation, once a month.  Not surprisingly the fare emphasizes root vegetables, breads, and condiments, with the exception of pea greens, which are delightful.

Fresh pea greens

I've become buddies with one vendor who lives near me (we've commiserated about how to prune an Esopus Spitzenburg apple tree, which tends to produce long leggy branches—neither of us has had the nerve to prune ours aggressively yet).  This time she had some Mayflower beans, and I grabbed up the last pound.

Mayflower beans (dry)

Mayflower beans are said to have arrived on the Mayflower in 1620, and were sustained in the Carolinas.  They're a pole bean, with a white interior and a mottled red skin.  My farmer friend complained mightily about having to clean them for sale—she probably won't offer them again because it's tedious work.  They also require long soaking, unlike the beans we buy in plastic bags these days.  I gave mine 24 hours to soak, and they probably could have gone longer.

Mayflower beans after soaking

The basic recipe is simple:

1 lb. Mayflower beans, well soaked    at least overnight
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1-2 carrots, chopped (I used one huge one)
1 parsnip, chopped
Thyme, bay leaf, or whatever herbs you like
1 lb. potatoes, cut into 1" cubes
4 cups stock (if you want a vegetarian dish, use water or vegetable stock, otherwise beef or chicken stock)
Salt and pepper
Oil for sautéing

Heat in the oil in a large, deep kettle and gently cook the onion and garlic until limp but not brown.  Add the beans, carrots and parsnip, thyme and stock.

Simmer over low heat (do not boil!) until the beans are cooked (keep tasting them). This may take up to two hours. Do not add salt during the cooking, because it will toughen the beans.

When the beans are fairly soft, add the potato chunks and continue to simmer until the potatoes are cooked, maybe another half an hour.  When you reach the magic moment, the stock will thicken and become a rich reddish-brown.  Check for seasoning, then serve. A nice whole-grain bread would go nicely with it.

I confess I also threw in some kale—yes, local!—at the last minute, because it creates a nice color contrast.

And voila!  A thick and hearty soup that the original settlers would recognize.


  1. Sheila, I LOVE bean soup--and this looks wonderful. I wonder what form the beans came in--did she have to clean them out of pods?

  2. Lucy, I didn't see them in the pod, but a few of the beans had a thin outer skin, kind of like a peanut. If they all started that way, I can see it would take a lot of work to clean them up for buyers used to tidy vegetables in bags.

  3. I love this kind of dish. Hearty and warm and perfect for cold days. So healthy, too. I bet it was wonderful.

    ~ Krista