Bean Jar Soup is an excellent soup to make in cold weather, the nastier, colder, and wetter, the better. It warms the kitchen as it cooks, and it warms the person eating it. If we've caught one of the holiday viruses, it's a nourishing meal with relatively little work, and the pot liquor of a good bean jar soup does wonders for a sore throat. I cook a ham maybe three times a year, and the ham bones go into freezer for the next bean soup...except that the Christmas ham bone goes into the New Year's Day bean soup.
Bean Jar Soup is not so much a recipe as a tradition. A ham bone with shreds of ham on it (a chunk of salt pork will do if you don't have a ham bone), an onion or two thin-sliced or chopped, 4-6 or more cloves of garlic, 4 cups (or 5, if it's down to the end of the jar, or less than 4 if there's not 4 cups left) of mixed dried beans. The New Year's Day Bean Jar Soup benefits from having all the pan juices of the Christmas ham in it as well, which means some mustard and pear jam (glaze on the ham). The beans have been soaked a good long time (black beans, in particular, benefit from longer soaking, and we aren't modernists who go all fussy if the beans aren't al dente. Bean Jar Soup is comfort food--you don't want to be breaking your teeth on a hard one, or get mouthful of dry-floury bean innards. They should be soft.)
With the ham bone and pan juice in the bottom of a 10-12 quart pot, add in the beans, the onion(s), the garlic and bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Although it's nice to have the onion and garlic prepped ahead of time, it's not necessary--if it goes in later, it's not a disaster, because of the long cooking time. Then let it alone, barring an occasional stir. Depending on the saltiness of the ham, you may need to add some salt, and some pepper can go in early or later. You can add other spices if you want (I sometimes do, though not to the New Year's version) but the main thing is to let it cook until the pot liquor is densely opaque, a rich, velvety delight. It will start smelling good early on. Don't be tempted. Keep it on the burner. It will smell better. Ignore it except to check the fluid level and stir. (Beans will glue themselves to the bottom of a pot and burn.) It will smell better than before. Hold out...the longer it goes, the better it is. (In fact, you can't get it to its best in less than 8 hours, although it's usually delicious by 4 hours in.) When temptation's about to overcome you, test one of the black beans. They're the slowest to cooperate in the "give up and be soft" struggle (of the beans I use.) Then find one of the garlic cloves (why I leave them whole in this) and see that it's soft as well--completely cooked. When the black beans and garlic cloves are soft, it's time for a first dish of soup.
It's also a time you can make the best bean dip you ever had in your life. Put a cup of the beans (no big hunks of ham) in a deep bowl or heavy jar and hit it with an immersion blender (stick blender) . Then stir in the finely diced hot pepper of your choice (or not-it's up to you) and bring out the tortilla chips.
But back to the soup. Say it's a cold, dank, night and you've come in tired, not even that hungry because all your muscles have tightened up against the cold and wet, and winter's a long way from over. And there's the Bean Jar Soup, hot, steamy, sending that bean-and-ham fragrance into your head. Dip out a bowl of it. If you have cornbread, that's a bonus, but if not, any other will do. If you like spicy, toss a spoonful of something--diced jalapeno, Tabasco sauce, a good hot salsa--on top, and then start eating. All the goodness of the beans starts flowing into you; you don't have to chew or anything, just savor it in your mouth and swallow. At some point, with me, my eyes open back up all the way, the feeling of being cold, tired, out of energy or caring fades, and I'm restored to my normal sels: awake, interested, a lot less inclined to crawl into the sack and pull the blankets over my head.
Like most homemade soups, it's even better the second day, but it's also a good soup for freezing, because sometimes you need a slug of bean soup when you haven't realized it the day before (and thus didn't soak beans overnight.) And in summer, you may want to eat bean soup but not want to heat the kitchen up enough to make it.
Just had a test bowl of today's. The white beans were contributing to the pot liquor; the kidney beans and black-eyes peas were soft but still togehter, and some of the black beans required chewing and were slightly floury inside. Yup, at four hours it's not really ready. The pot liquor was opaque but not that opaque. It should look like gravy, not soup juice. The meat hasn't all fallen off the ham bone. So another couple-three hours should make a big difference.
You can dress up Bean Jar Soup with grated cheese on top, or diced raw onion, or parsley, or cilantro, or pretty much whatever you want: diced tomato, diced hot pepper, croutons...but it's good right out of the pot on its own and even slightly underdone (what I just ate) it's sustaining food. (I might put another onion in, and the rest of the garlic...or not.)
When it's done, I'll take a picture and add it to this post.