My stories in The Journey to Pleasant Prairie series take place in the mid-19th century, and it was a fascinating time to research. We tend to think the Amish are captured in time, folks from the 1800’s living in the midst of modern America, but there has been much progress among the Amish in the last 200 years. The progress might not go as quickly as the rest of the world, but there have been changes.
One thing that has changed is that the Amish in those days didn’t drive buggies or wagons to church on Sunday – they walked.
A team of horses needs a day off during the week just as much as people do. The Amish today have separate horses for working and for driving, but back then, a buggy horse was considered a luxury, and so was a light buggy or carriage. In fact, the buggies that we see everywhere in Amish Country today hadn’t been invented yet!
It could be a six mile walk to the house where the Sabbath Meeting was being held. Before the families would start the long walk home in the afternoon, they shared a fellowship meal – something simple, warm, filling, and inexpensive. The traditional sabbath meal in 18th and 19th century Pennsylvania Amish Country was bean soup.
I can imagine a log home filled to the brim with Amish families, some of them still grieving loved ones they had lost on the long journey across the Atlantic in ships called the “Charming Nancy” and “Love and Unity”. Old men with gray beards, women in their bonnets and capes, children with cheeks rosy from the cold outside and the heat inside the house…and all morning long smelling the fragrance from the big kettle of bean soup simmering on the hearth.
And you thought you had a hard time concentrating on the sermon!
Bean Soup is still a favorite meal at our house, and the recipe I use has been passed down through generations.
Traditional Bean Soup
Serves six to eight
2 cups dried navy or small white beans
A gallon or more water for soaking
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (optional)
6 cups water or broth
½ cup chopped onion
1 cup ham, cooked bacon, or salt pork (optional)
Salt to taste
Start by soaking the beans overnight. Be sure to wash and sort the beans, discarding any that are discolored. Put the beans in a bowl, then cover the beans with water. The water level should be an inch or two above the beans. Add a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar (optional, but helps relieve the gassy effect of beans). Stir to mix everything together, then cover the bowl and leave it on the counter.
In the morning, drain and rinse the beans. Add them to a large pot along with the other ingredients, except the salt.
I like to use my slow cooker for bean soup, but you can also cook them in a Dutch oven or large pot, or even inside your oven. No matter which way you cook them, the pot should be covered.
Check the soup every few hours to see if you need to add more liquid.
After about ten to twelve hours in the slow cooker, or when the beans are soft, the soup is ready to serve. Add salt to taste.
Jan Drexler’s ancestors were among the first Amish immigrants to Pennsylvania in the 1700s, and their experiences are the inspiration for her stories. Jan lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with her husband of thirty-five years. She is the author of five books published by Love Inspired, as well as “The Journey to Pleasant Prairie” series from Revell: Hannah’s Choice and Mattie’s Pledge, and Naomi’s Hope. Find Jan on Facebook, Jan Drexler, author, or her website, Jan Drexler.com.