Uptown Bean Soup

  • Pin It
  • print
  • email to a friend
By Damon Lee Fowler

Cold is relative. Here in Savannah, for example, we rarely have a freeze before Christmas. But because our summers are so hot and humid, the crisp if mild chill that settles over the old city in November is plenty cold enough for the hearty comforts of bean soup.

We nowadays think of bean soup as plain comfort food, thick, warming, and casual, like a favorite old sweater. In Savannah, however, when the soup was made with black beans, it once knew no such boundaries. Pureed and garnished with sherry and wafer-thin slices of lemon, during the nineteenth century it was considered elegant enough for the best company, outranked only by that now vanished delicacy of the day, turtle soup.

Actually, back then it was considered elegant not just in Savannah, but in practically any place one went down South, from here to the Governor’s Mansion in Maryland – even to Mr. Jefferson’s refined table at Monticello.

Today, it doesn’t have to be served with such elegance to be satisfying. Even old guard-Savannahians enjoy it from a thick mug in the cozy comfort of a hearthside chair.

Savannah Black “Turtle” Bean Soup
Serves 8 as an elegant first course at dinner, or 6 as a casual fireside lunch or supper

1 pound dried black beans
½ pound lean salt-cured pork in one piece, or ¼ pound if sliced
6 cups Meat Broth (see notes below)
1 large or 2 medium white onions, trimmed, split lengthwise, peeled and chopped
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, lightly crushed, peeled and minced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced small
1 small turnip, scrubbed, peeled and diced small
2 ribs celery, washed, strung and diced small
2 medium ripe tomatoes, scalded, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 bay leaf
2 large sprigs flat leaf parsley
6 whole cloves, powdered with a mortar and pestle or spice mill
Salt and whole black pepper in a peppermill
Ground cayenne
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 large hard-cooked eggs, peeled
6-8 tablespoons sherry (1 tablespoon per serving)
2 lemons, thinly sliced
Pepper Sherry (recipe follows), optional

Rinse the beans under cold running water, sort through and discard any damaged or discolored ones, and put them in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Add enough water to cover them by 2 inches. Beans cook better in soft water: if your water, like Savannah’s, is hard, use bottled or filtered water. Bring the beans slowly to a boil point over medium heat. Turn off the heat and soak until they have doubled in volume, about an hour.

Replenish the water with enough to cover the beans by 1 inch. Put the pot back over medium heat and bring it to a simmer again, skimming away any scum that rises. Reduce the heat to a slow simmer and cook until the beans are tender, about an hour.

Drain, reserving the cooking liquid, and return the beans to the pot with 2 cups of cooking liquid, the salt pork, and meat broth. Raise the heat to medium, and bring it back to a boil. Add the onion, garlic, carrot, turnip, celery and tomatoes, let it return to a boil, skimming off any scum that rises, then put in the bay leaf and parsley, powdered cloves, pinch or so of salt (going easy; you can correct it later) liberal grinding of pepper, small pinch of cayenne, and Worcestershire sauce. Reduce the heat to a slow simmer, cover, and cook until the vegetables are very tender, about 2 hours.

Take up and reserve 1 heaping cup of beans. Puree the remaining soup through a food mill or with a stick blender or food processor. If it’s too thick, thin it with some of the reserved bean cooking liquid or broth. Stir in the whole beans and heat it through. Taste and adjust the seasonings, and let it heat for 2 to 3 minutes to meld.
Force the eggs through a coarse wire sieve. Add a tablespoon of sherry to each bowl, and ladle in the soup.  Float a slice of lemon and sprinkling of egg on top of each bowl. Serve with Pepper Sherry passed separately, if liked.

Meat Broth: beef is the most common, but some cooks use broth made from leftover ham bones and smoked hocks (omit the salt pork if you use that). In some parts of the South mutton or lamb broth are sometimes used.

Pepper Sherry

Once common in many of the British Colonies, including the West Indies and South Africa, pepper sherry used to be a fixture on most Savannah tables, where it was used to season not just black bean soup, but also crab, turtle, and Okra soup, Savannah’s unique variation of gumbo.

Makes 1 cup

1/3 bird peppers or ½ cup other small hot peppers
1 cup medium dry (amontillado) sherry

Rinse the peppers in cold water, drain, and put them in a heatproof bowl. Bring 1 cup of water to a rolling boil and pour it over the peppers. Let stand 1 minute and drain.

Put the peppers in a clean cruet, jar, or bottle that will hold at least 1½ cups. Pour the sherry over them, stop or seal it well, and steep for at least 24 hours before using. I find it helps distribute the peppery oils if you gently shake the cruet after 24 hours.

Read More From Southern Recipes.

You May Also Like These Blogs:

You May Also Like These Recipes:

Leave a Comment

Reader Comments:


that black bean soup was very good i love it for black bean soup it was the best i tasted

By becky on January 25, 2011


Black beans....You had me at Black beans. wink Adore the history given before the recipe.

By The Unusual Farm Chick on January 25, 2011


Black beans are my all time favorite bean. This recipe will be made for dinner next weekend. Can not wait to try it out~it may earn a place of honor in my special recipe box of our children's favorite meals.

By Anonymous on January 25, 2011


i make bean soup kind of like a stew.. cook beans about 1 1/2 hours and then add carrots and potatoes cut up. of course onion and maybe celery but i like your idea of a turnip i enjoy putting a turnip or parsnip into mashed potatoes too to give it a bit of a tang. just cut up one and boil along with the potatoes its great! really enjoy your website and all that you do. saw you in the parade nice to see you had a wonderful day. really enjoyed your story about your surprise mystery birthday celebration so nice to be so loved. many thanks for you being just you all the best always.

By stephanie kinnett on January 23, 2011

Paula Deen
Paula Deen
The Lady's Blog
The Queen of Southern Cuisine muses about her recipes, life and family. See Posts

Brooke Deen
Brooke Deen
Deen Mother
Advice on raising two boys (three counting Jamie). See Posts

Brandon Branch
Brandon Branch
Southern Style
Decorating Inspiration from Paula's Design Director. See Posts

Julia Sayers
Julia Sayers
Hot off the Press
Step behind the pages and let the Associate Editor of Cooking with Paula Deen fill you in on what goes into creating every issue. See Posts

Lisa Scarbrough
Lisa Scarbrough
Thrift Store Mommy
Mom on a dime advice from Paula's Digital Properties Manager. See Posts

Andrea Goto
Andrea Goto
Mom 2.0
Tips from a real-world mom with comedic tendencies. See Posts

Martha Lee
Martha Lee
Earth Mother
Practical, earth-conscious ways to live and parent in the 21st century. See Posts

Susan Greene a.k.a BUBBLES
Susan Greene a.k.a BUBBLES
Bubbles' Corner
Ideas and advice from a 21st Century young at heart Grandmother. See Posts

Cindy Edwards
Cindy Edwards
Southern Proper
Etiquette advice from a true Southern belle. See Posts


Paula, I love watching you and your family. I miss seeing your show, I watched you everyday. My son lives in Charleston S.C. He took me to the Lady & Sons to eat. Oh my goodness! People are always telling me that I look just like the cooking lady Paula Deen. I always tell them that you are my hero. May God Bless You Mary Ann
Mary Ann Tharp in A Summer of Burgers on August 15, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Add a few spoonfuls of parmesan cheese to the flour and cornmeal breading and it kicks the tomatoes up another notch. Bev
in Crispy Fried Green Tomatoes on August 15, 2014 at 10:33 am

I just bought Paula's Peach Salad Dressing and wondered if anyone has a good recipe that they use it in?
Melissa in Taste Testing 101 on August 13, 2014 at 8:36 am

Congrats Bobby. Loved the family picture miss you Paula on TV will be watching online. Jack is getting big. Looks like his mom but Matt aka moose has your face. Your eyes cheeks hair even falls to his face like yours except to the left. Good luck on your next venture. You give us other 60+ yr women strength to move on. Keep up the good work.
Carol Bryant in Love at Last on August 11, 2014 at 6:12 pm