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Bootheel Bean Soup and Cornbread

I remember sitting at my Granny’s kitchen table–don’t call her Grandma, she wouldn’t like it–with a steaming bowl of beans and warm fresh cornbread. She would tell me a funny story about the blind mule she rode as a little girl, while we share a simple country lunch. She told me how she grew up poor, but it didn’t matter. Everyone in her little Bootheel Missouri town was poor too–they didn’t know any different!

Of course, things were different by the time I came along. My Granny had moved to St. Louis, married a handsome city boy, raised two girls and put them through college. She was a loan officer at a bank when I was a little girl–my PaPa was a carpenter at Hussmann–and they had enough money to buy me every single toy I ever wanted for Christmas…maybe because my Granny grew up playing with blind mules and corn husk dolls. 

I think she liked to fix beans and cornbread so I wouldn’t forget my family’s simple, Bootheel roots. Brown donkey

Sorry, I don’t have a photo of my Granny riding a blind mule in the 1930s as a little girl. But I always thought the mule would look like this.

Bootheel Bean Soup and CornbreadBootheel Bean Soup

I’ve tried to pass the beans and cornbread tradition along to my family, but so far I’ve only impressed them with the cornbread. My suburbanite boys would be horrified if I tried to serve up a plain bowl of beans as a main dish. So I found a loop hole: Ham and Bean Soup. It’s got way more flavor than boring old beans and it’s still a frugal dish–after all, I’m not a share cropper’s daughter. But I am a share cropper’s great granddaughter…

Before we start, I’d like to talk about meat. Now you can make this recipe with almost any sort of ham: deli ham, ham steaks…it’s all good. But if you want really, really awesome soup, then make this with leftover baked ham. The best batch of bean soup I’ve ever made used leftover Honey Baked Ham from Easter dinner. Mmmmmm.

This recipe uses canned beans, because my Granny was all about “modern day” convenience food. She wasn’t going to spend all day in the kitchen like her mom did, and neither should we! 

Bootheel bean soup



  • 3 cans navy beans
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 2 ham steaks, 16 oz, diced
  • 2 bullion cubes
  • 3 cups hot water
  • tablespoon cornstarch
  • tablespoon butter

Melt butter in a large stock pot, then add diced onion, celery and garlic. Cook until soft. 

Dice ham and add to the veggies.

Add beans–drain them first!

Add bullion cubes to TWO CUPS hot water and allow the cubes to dissolve. Add to the soup. Stir.

Take the remaining ONE cup of COLD water and add cornstarch. Stir until smooth, then add to the soup. Stir some more.

Simmer for at least 30 minutes before serving. Of course, the longer it simmers, the better the soup! ham and bean soup


While you’re letting the soup simmer you can prepare some cornbread to go with your soup. 


Remember how I said my Granny didn’t like to spend extra time in the kitchen? She was way more interested in playing Jewelry Store or Let’s Walk To California with me. (It’s a long story.) Heck, she spent a lot of time just trying to convince me that my Darth Vader action figure should be allowed to ride on the Landspeeder with Luke–she was way ahead of her time!

Anyway…I don’t have an old timey cornbread recipe to hand down to you. Because when they say, tastes just like Grandma made…well around here that usually means it came from a box. Jiffy Cornbread, to be exact. I would suggest you do the same.

No go play with your kids…the soup is almost done!