My mother in law makes this soup that my husband just loves. It is called, simply: "Bean Soup." It has ham and little dumplings that she makes called "Rivels." My husband just LOVES this soup, it is his favorite thing of anything she cooks. Now, my husband is not one to complain about my cooking normally, but there is nothing i make that compares to his mother's bean soup. (I am not sure it is THAT good, but it really is pretty good.)
So i asked her how to make it. She told me she just put ham, water and beans in the pot, and made the rivels and that was it! Rivels are egg and flour. Well, how hard can that be? Duh.
After a few tries, i realized there was a secret somewhere. How many times have you asked someone for a recipe, which they readily shared, only to find YOUR carefully executed dish tasted NOTHING AT ALL like theirs? More than once have i heard people accuse others of purposefully leaving something out, changing the recipe or just "not sharing the secret."
I could not very well accuse my mother in law of any of these things, but to tell the truth, i just simply could not render a soup like hers from the proscribed ingredients. After awhile, i started making a point to WATCH CAREFULLY when she made this soup. I have to tell you, it took me a few years to get it down...I am not one to haunt people, and making soup takes hours. But I have it now! I haven't told HER that yet, because my husband STILL loves it when she makes it for him.
I have come to the conclusion that when people have recipe secrets the secret is sometimes kept because it is not even known to the originator. The best kept recipe secret is the cooks' own idiosyncrasy or habit that s/he is not even aware of, the little methods used by the chef that are so much a part of their cooking routine that they are not even articulated, because they are beneath mention. MIL's bean soup "secrets" were like that.
Here is my MIL's Bean Soup recipe, complete with SECRETS:
1 package dry beans
ham bone preferred. Ham hock or knuckles acceptable, but a whole ham bone is best.
3/4 c + flour
lots of water
1. Use Navy, or Great Northern beans or a combination of the 2. No other types of beans will do. Navy beans, though they are smaller, actually take a little longer to cook than the Great Northern.
2. soak the beans overnight, or at least 6 hours. Discard the soaking water and rinse
3. Boil a HAM BONE for a long time, until the meat falls off. Several hours at least.
4. Strain the ham bone water and remove all traces of bone. Separate the meat and return it to the broth.
5. Add reconstituted beans and cubed ham to the broth and cook until the beans are tender. This will take anywhere from 2-3 hours.
6. The time to make rivels is when the beans are tender, but there is still plenty of thin broth in the pot. The beans need to be at a rolling boil, and there needs to be no danger of the bottom scorching from overcooked beans.
7. Lightly beat egg and add about 3/4 c. flour, stir with fork. A stiff dough will begin to form, but should not make a ball. The amount of flour will vary depending on the moisture in the air, how large the egg is, etc. The mixture should lots of little pieces of dough, but have alot of DRY flour on the outside. There should be extra flour that will not mix into the egg and still be powdery.
8. Pick up some dough in your clean hands. Scoop up some loose flour with it. Hold your hands over the boiling pot, so the steam rises into your hands. Roll and pinch your hands together to make little pinches of dough, little twisted bits, and drop them into the pot. The dough is too dry to stick together on it's own, but the steam rising from the pot gives just enough stickyness to allow it to make little dumplings. There will be alot of little powdery flour falling from your hands, as well, do not worry about this. This thickens the soup to a lovely texture. If the dough feels sticky at all, you need more flour.
9. Simmer the soup for about 15-20 mins, to allow the Rivels to cook. Perfectly cooked rivels have a slightly chewy texture and are irregular in shape.
I have never been one to leave vegetables "out" and since i have learned all the secrets to my MIL's soup, i have been brave enough to add veges in. I like to put in a chopped or grated carrot and some celery, sometimes some onion (during the bean cooking stage)...but they are erroneous to my DH and he has not complained, so i think the essence remains pure!
Since learning her 'secret,' my method of query when asking for a new recipe has changed dramatically. When someone gives me a recipe, i read through it silently, then i read it out loud to them. I ask alot of questions. Little things...do you let the ingredients come to room temp? HOW do you clean the collards...cut or tear? What brand butter? etc. Amazing. Next post, i will share MY cake secrets...
to see more posts in this series, click on the label "recipe secrets" below.