White Beans and Ham

A bowl of white beans and ham topped with green onion, parsley and chow chow.

White beans — Great northern beans and Navy beans are often used to make a soup bean dish. This became more common as residents of rural areas began to rely more on store-bought beans and could afford more variety. This dish is typically referred to as “white beans” although it is occasionally called soup beans. Along with the beans, white beans are typically cooked in the juice of a country ham, often with the ham bone or ham included in the dish. As such, this dish is a prized part of holiday meals, when hams are baked. White beans are sometimes cooked with pork fat like brown soup beans, although this is less common. White beans carried an air of sophistication because they were first available in towns to people who could afford more than one type of bean and ham, as opposed to poorer rural people who often raised only brown beans.


Woo boy it’s been a whirlwind few weeks since I last posted. I actually finished eating this meal about two weeks ago, but we were in a mad scramble to finally get our house on the market after three years of saying “we’ll be ready by next month”, and writing blog posts was the last thing I’ve had time for. We finally made it to listing on Sunday morning, and accepted a cash offer for significantly over our asking price within 36 hours. I’m physically and emotionally exhausted, but we now have less than a month to find a place to live, pack and move out. I’m hoping to find time to create one more meal for the blog in this kitchen, but I’m not counting on getting anything posted here before mid October.

I could easily have just followed my soup bean recipe and substituted white beans. But where’s the fun in that. This recipe probably strays further from true Appalachian soup beans and closer to an actual bean soup, since I’ve included some vegetables. Of course I’m sure there are more health conscious residents of Appalachia these days who sneak some vegetables into their classic dishes too.

In Appalachia white beans would be more of a “special occasion” dish, as they were more expensive and less common than pinto beans. According to the Wikipedia quote above they are often served around holidays, using the bone and leftover ham from the holiday meal, as well as the juices from the pan the ham was cooked in. Traditionally that would be a country ham, which are hard to come by in northern Minnesota.

What’s a country ham, you may be asking? There are two kinds of ham (for purposes of this simplified explanation), dry cured, or country hams, and wet or brine cured “city” hams. A dry cured ham is rubbed with salt and seasonings and hung up to cure for one to three months, and then usually smoked over hardwood, and then aged for up to three years. The result is a dry, salty ham, that can be stored at room temperature. Although cured, it still is generally cooked before serving, usually including soaking for a day or more to take some of the saltiness out. A “city” ham, on the other hand is soaked in or injected with a brine solution before smokeing. It’s production takes days instead of years, and it’s what most Americans understand “ham” to be if you live outside the region generally recognized as “The South”. Among “foodies” it’s generally accepted that country hams are far superior. That said, I decided this wasn’t the time to be ordering a giant ham on the internet, so I just used a wet cured ham steak from the grocery store. Once we have our house sold and are settled somewhere again perhaps I’ll come back and try this with the real deal.

Since I’m playing around with various side dishes for these soup beans variations, I decided to free up a stove burner and cook these in the crock pot. The very first recipe I posted here was a crock pot recipe, and I haven’t used that method since. The crockpot is actually a great way to cook beans, so that’s a little surprising.

Soup beans supper, v2: White beans and ham, cornbread, mashed potatoes, turnip greens, sausage and sauerkraut.

Moving right on the the rest of the meal:

I went with a classic sweet cornbread this time. As delicious as the lace hoecakes were, cornbread works better to sop up the juices. Often it is either served as a base with the beans poured over it, or crumbled into the beans. I didn’t much appreciate that (the beans were fine that way, but I lost the cornbread flavor). On the other hand, it was absolutely delicious sopping up the juices from my turnip greens.

Once again I topped my beans with green onion and chow chow, and I went with mashed potatoes, which also paired well with the turnip greens.

Finally, in the modern grocery store driven side slot I went with sauerkraut and sausages.

White Beans and Ham

Serves: 10
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 8 hours
Total: 8:10

1 ¼ lbs. great northern beans
3 15 oz. cans cannellini beans
1 lb. ham steak or country ham, diced
2 smoked ham hocks or a meaty ham bone (about 2 lbs.)
1 large onion, diced
1 Tablespoon onion powder
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
⅔ cup diced celery
1 ½ cups carrot, diced
32 oz chicken broth
4 ½ cups water
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
2-3 bay leaves

Tabasco sauce, to taste
⅓ cup green onion for garnish
Parsley, minced, for garnish

1 Tablespoon garlic powder (in place of garlic)
2 ½ cups vegetable stock (in place of chicken stock. Increase amount of water) 
4 jalapeños, minced
1 ¼ Tablespoons cajun seasoning 
2 Tablespoons canola or olive oil to sauté vegetables
2 ½ Tablespoons lemon juice
2 ½ Tablespoons parsley, minced 
1 ¼ Tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
⅔ teaspoon crushed red pepper
White rice, to serve
Jalapeño, for garnish

Pick over your beans for any shriveled beans or foreign matter. Cover with several inches of water and allow to soak overnight. 

Drain the beans and place them in a slow cooker with ham, vegetables, broth, water and seasonings. Cook on high until boiling, then reduce to low and cook until beans are tender and the broth starts to thicken, about 8 hours total.

Add a few drops of Tabasco and taste for seasoning.

If you used ham with bones pull them out and allow to cool slightly. Pick the meat off the bones, chop it and return it to the pot. 

Serve garnished with green onion and parsley, alongside a nice slice of cornbread, and pass the Tabasco so your diners can adjust the heat to their preference. 

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