I haven't put up any recipes during this break, so I thought I'd get moving on that a bit. Today I'm making a simple one - it's over across the kitchen from me as I write. It's a bean soup that my father often made for New Year's Day, as sort of a counter to the richer, fancier stuff that preceded it during the holidays.
Sitting out in the back yard during the summer, I tried a thought experiment out on my kids. What, I asked, if we had to grow all our own food, on the land we have here in the yard? Could it be done? And if so, what crops would you pick? Some favorites, such as tomatoes and cucumbers (the very things we had growing over in the sunnier part) were eliminated early as not providing enough food value for the space and effort. I pointed out that our yard was not a very large plot of arable land, which meant that we'd have to go first for the maximum yield of calories per area planted, with an aesthetic factors coming in way down the list, if at all. The life, that is, of a peasant. My first choice was potatoes, based on the survival of the Irish farmers (well, at least until the rot) and the gunpoint recommendation of Frederick the Great. Then corn and beans, based on New World agriculture. All three also rank high for their winter keeping qualities - as I mentioned to the kids, we'd have to pile up as much food as possible in the basement and garage to make it through a Massachusetts winter. They didn't find the prospect too appealing, which was one point of the whole exercise.
So here's the bean part of the equation. No doubt it's the sort of thing my own ancestors used to eat this time of the year:
Take 1 pound (or around 0.5 kilo) of dried white beans. I use Great Northern, but just about anything should work, I'd think. Soak them overnight at room temperature in four volumes of water or so - they can sit for longer, if you want to make them later the next day, but I'm sure there's an eventual limit imposed by incipient fermentation, which I would definitely not recommend testing.
Discard the soaking water. Put the beans in a pot and cover with water again, adding one or two bay leaves and salt and ground pepper to taste. You can adjust those later on. Some people like to add chopped onion at this stage; I prefer to put a little raw on the top of the beans when they're served. De gustibus non disputandem est.
Before bringing the beans to a low simmer, I also add some pieces of country ham, a specialty of my native part of the US. Different regions have different ideas about country ham (note that the Virginia/Smithfield ones are rather a different breed), but it's always salty, so if you're doing this, you'll probably want to add no extraneous salt at all until you've tasted the finished product. The amount of ham is also to taste - by the standards of my ancestors, some of them, anyway, this sort of things was no doubt a luxury item, and they'd have put in a mostly bare bone, at most. I'm happy adding a half pound (0.25 kilo), in pieces. If you'd like to try the stuff, I can recommend Burger's (I'm about to go downstairs and get some myself). Tripp is also a reliable brand. I grew up on Mar-Tenn brand, but I'm not even sure if it exists any more. It's not just for bean soup, of course - my Southern roots call for the sliced ham to be gently pan-fried for a winter breakfast and served with biscuits, a fine meal which will have you drinking water at an increased rate for several hours.
So heat the beans gently for two to three hours, depending on how long the earlier soaking has gone (and of course, what sort of bean you might have started with). I like them to the point where the soup has thickened some, but not to where the beans themselves are breaking up. I don't recommend any strong boiling; that'll bring on the bean-mush stage for sure. You'll have to check over so often to make sure that things haven't gotten out of hand. Adding extra water, if needed, is no sin. I eat the resulting bean soup with homemade cornbread, for bonus exiled-Southerner points, and I'll put up a recipe for that, too.
You can start from the straight dried beans, too, if you're a real buckaroo, but you're going to have to get going in the morning to have them for dinner.