Recipe: Ham, String Bean, and Potato Soup—a Real Dutch Treat

When I was a kid and I would go to my grandmother’s house (on my mother’s side), we only ever ate two things. If I was there for lunch by myself, she would make grilled cheese sandwiches with a dill pickle on the side, and she’d serve tea in a gold teacup. It always made me feel special.

But if we came for dinner—which we only ever did a few times—she only made one thing: Pennsylvania Dutch ham, string bean and potato soup. I’ve never seen it on a menu anywhere (even in traditional restaurants) but it’s something my kids all love. Eve even asks for it as her special birthday-dinner choice. It’s fairly easy to make and makes a meal all by itself, especially if you make drop biscuits to go with it (which I’ll share my recipe for in my blog on Friday).

It starts with ham hocks, which are the leg (or more accurately ankle) of a pig that’s smoked. I try to always get organic ones, which means I find a local organic farmer or butcher and buy them directly, go to the local farmer’s market, or, if all else fails, order them online from Heritagefoodsusa.com. Most often, they are frozen, but that’s ok.

PA Dutch Ham, String Bean, and Potato Soup

1 ham hock
6 average-size potatoes
2 cups string beans
Salt and pepper to taste

Makes 4 to 5 servings

1. Put at least one ham hock in a stockpot and add about 10 cups of water (until the hock is covered). The more hocks you add, the more water you add. Cook on medium to low heat for HOURS. At minimum, two hours, at most, all day. As the water evaporates and the hock starts to fall apart, add more water if you need to. You want to end up with enough broth for at least four people to have a full serving.
2. When the broth seems done and the ham hock is falling apart, either strain the broth or remove the hock, and after it cools a bit, remove the meat from the hock and add it back into the soup. If you want to add lots of ham and make it a more meaty soup, add either cold ham cut off the bone or a ham steak cut into cubes.
3. Wash and clean (peel if you so desire) the potatoes, cube them, and put them into the simmering broth.
4. Add the string beans, too. (Traditionally, this soup used dried string beans, which have a stronger flavor and aren’t required.)
5. Cook until the potatoes are done, and serve with drop biscuits or other crusty bread.

I think my grandmother added celery salt, but that’s the kind of thing I can never find in an organic version, so I just skip it. If you want to add celery, you can, but don’t get too creative because the Pennsylvania Dutch are notoriously resistant to new ideas! Definitely salt and pepper to taste (some ham hocks are saltier than others).

Enjoy!

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30 Responses to Recipe: Ham, String Bean, and Potato Soup—a Real Dutch Treat

  1. Jake September 23, 2009 at 11:15 am #

    sounds really good – I just made potatoe and leek soup over the weekend and it was great but was wondering if you would share your recipe for the drop biscuits, if they were home made? Thanks!

  2. Jake September 23, 2009 at 11:17 am #

    oooops – I just saw that you stated the biscuit will be in Friday’s blog so i will be sure to check it out!

  3. Pat September 23, 2009 at 11:40 am #

    We’re having our first snow (horizontal due to wind) today – Peyton Colorado. This is also a favorite childhood recipe of mine. Guess my Mom was a rebel – she used yellow wax beans!!

  4. Maya September 23, 2009 at 12:36 pm #

    This is one of my FAVORITE soups. It’s so perfect and delicious. And very easy to make :)

  5. Michelle September 23, 2009 at 12:47 pm #

    My aunt in Memphis,Tn always made this for me as a child. She served it with cornbread made in an iron skillet. True “soul” food.

  6. Caryn September 23, 2009 at 1:06 pm #

    Maria,

    The ingredients have been on my grocery list for two days. I didn’t realize anyone else threw this yummy concoction together! It’s warming to know we share similar childhood memories!

  7. Sharon September 23, 2009 at 1:45 pm #

    About the soupa recipe – My grandmother sometimes added milk (cream) and dumplings. She seemed to ALWAYS have to have dumplings with soups. I think I remember we also had this with peas.
    She was of Irish descent but my grandfather was of Dutch and German descent. We always had great meals!!

  8. Sharon September 23, 2009 at 1:48 pm #

    I forgot to add that all the ingredients of my grandmothers soupa were organic because although my grandfather worked in the Tannary they raised their own food and pigs, ETC.

  9. Lee September 23, 2009 at 4:34 pm #

    This is also a soup that I grew up on and one that my family loves. Try adding a touch of vinegar. Yum. Never thought to do the drop biscuits with this one, but I will the next time that I make it.

  10. Anonymous September 23, 2009 at 4:59 pm #

    WOW, I am back in 4th grade, buttering my bread to go with my bowl of string beans and ham that my Nain made for us (Nain is Welsh for grandmother). I can smell (and taste) it now. Last time I ate this was at my aunt Janet’s about 4-5 years ago, I lost count after the 3rd bowl. It is so yummy…there were no biscuits at our family table, just some good rye bread and unsalted butter.

  11. Donna September 24, 2009 at 2:36 am #

    Had a version of this growing up. It was smoked ham hocks, cubed white potatoes and either kale or collard greens in plenty of ham broth. We too had this soup with corn bread made of course yellow corn meal and made in a cast iron skillet. A good fall & winter soup, soul satisfying and every so often eaten with homemade rolls hot out of the oven. Ummmmm!

  12. Rebecca September 24, 2009 at 4:25 pm #

    My grandma (Welsh/Pennsylvania Dutch) made this with bacon, and we called it Green Beans ‘n Bacon. Yum. I’m going to try it with the hocks.

  13. Brehm Neel September 25, 2009 at 7:24 am #

    Add my name to the list! My Mother also made this delicious soup all my life. She added cream and butter to the mix as did her Irish Mother. Can’t wait to try the drop biscuits ( dumplings!). Gotta go… need some more veggies to go with my organic home grown fingerling potatoes I just dug.

  14. Rick September 25, 2009 at 4:41 pm #

    I remember my grandmother making this, but not as a soup…just potatoes, beans and ham. Did people make it that way, or am I misremembering?

  15. Christl September 26, 2009 at 2:30 am #

    One of my favorites! I add a few bay leaves to the ham while it’s cokking for an extra kick. Thanks Maria!

  16. JC October 3, 2009 at 9:32 am #

    My grandmother made this, then my mom, then me and now my daughters are asking how to make it. They live out on their own and miss the home cooking. It’s a delicious recipe, one of my very favorites. I use a left over ham bone.
    One way to live forever is through handing down wonderful recipes like this one. Life lives on through food and family history. Hope you try it.

  17. Donna in DE October 10, 2009 at 8:20 am #

    RICK,

    It dosesn’t necessarily need to be a soup. As a side dish, my grandmother made just beans and ham pieces with a little chopped onion, no broth needed and as I said earlier (see above) I had a different version of this soup growing up in Virginia, still every bit as good.

  18. HANK January 14, 2010 at 11:41 am #

    THANKS IV BEEN LOOKING FOR THIS RECIPE OR A WHILE MY GRANDMOTHER USED MAKE THIS WHEN I WAS A CHILD THANKS

  19. Angela February 1, 2010 at 2:21 pm #

    We had as kids as well – German-Dutch descent. I just made it the over the weekend. I recall my parents calling is something else though….Does anyone remember the German/Dutch name for this?

  20. Sue October 7, 2010 at 1:36 pm #

    I grew up on this recipe, also. But the recipe I was handed down included adding a brown flour rue to thicken it. I have’t seen any other recipes that have included the thickening!

  21. Mary December 28, 2010 at 3:34 pm #

    Thanks for this recipe. We had this alot growing up. Another way my mother used every last bit of a meal. She would cook off the ham bone then add the left over meat, potatoes and string beans. Was looking for the recipe because I wasn’t sure if she added any herbs or seasoning. It really is just what it is…ham, string beans and potatoes. Gonna use up the leftover Christmas ham and boil off the bone.

  22. susie March 10, 2011 at 2:00 pm #

    My Mom made this soup…Great memories!!!

  23. Eric October 2, 2011 at 10:58 pm #

    My grandmother’s, mother, brothers, sister, and myself made and still make our versions of this delicious soup. Somewhere along life’s path the name evolved, the latest version being “angabrotz”. I’ve remembered a name that went something like “eingenbraten” (sp?). We learned to trade off the ham or ham hocks with kielbasa and the green beans for navy bean. As with Sue above, we always added the brown flour rue! Um um yummy good! Oh and at our place…never forget the crusty french bread with the soup!

  24. cdl November 21, 2011 at 12:08 am #

    Not that it matters, but this would not be a ‘Dutch’ Treat. The Pennslyvenia Dutch are German. A mistake made by many.

  25. Joe December 12, 2011 at 12:24 am #

    Most of us know that cdl….. All together now (in your thickest
    Pa Dutch accent) YOU AINT MUCH IF YOU AINT DUTCH!

  26. Joni M Rockhill March 15, 2012 at 11:29 am #

    I am from Hershey, PA, close to PA “Dutch Country”. cdl, you’re correct. The PA Dutch are actually German; when they first settled in the area, “Deutsch” which means German, was misunderstood as Dutch. This is also associated with the Amish and Mennonite in Lancaster county, which are not nationalities, but religious sects. Many of the farmers that sell their goods at Farmers Markets in Lancaster County are Amish and Mennonite Families. I once felt sorry for a VERY young Mennonite girl having to sit for hours in the hot sun at “Roots Market” in Manheim, so I gave her an extra quarter and told her “This is for you”. She put the quarter in the till instead. Just the way they’re raised…

  27. Donna in Pleasant Valley October 13, 2012 at 10:57 am #

    y grandmother also made this for me as well as my mother. We would have it served over white bread. yum.

  28. Jackie December 30, 2012 at 1:27 am #

    We called it (I’m going to spelled it phonetically): ay-ga-brush-al. Does anyone else have Penn Dutch names for this?

  29. Chris p October 12, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

    In our family, it was ‘speck und bona’

  30. Matt P November 27, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

    This must be an old German/Dutch farmers’ recipe. My ancestors were Mennonite farmers, and I grew up (in Kansas) with this stuff. My mom uses half an onion and a couple tablespoons of ground savory. She likes to finish it with a quarter cup or so of milk. Not only is it yummy and satisfying, it’s good for you.

    Also, in the tradition of the frugal old farmers, the left over bone from a Christmas (or Thanksgiving) baked ham works great in place of the hocks.

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