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Water (Recipe: bailout bean soup) {vegan, gluten-free}


Guest post and photos by Marcia in Rhode Island.

Times a gettin’ hard boys,
Money’s gettin’ scarce.   

                ~1930s dustbowl tune by Lee Hays

Ours is a town of rock and water. Underground streams and pockets of water secreted within granite ledges supply our wells. Our water is pure, delicious, and abundant -- a fact which is appreciated by much of urban Rhode Island.

Today, in the early morning mist, I walked along the banks of a brook until I came to the river.  This river feeds the reservoir, which in turn supplies the drinking water for much of the state, though not for our town.

The essential ingredient of my pantry is not in a cupboard; it’s stored a couple of hundred feet underground. When asked, it races to the house at a breakneck pace of 22 gallons a minute.

Yes, my underground treasure is water. 

My cooking days are filled with its riches: cups of coffee, bowls of oatmeal, pots of stewing hens, baskets of steamed vegetables…. all of which begin with water from our well.


When a frugal meal is called for (and if not now, when?!) set the stage with water. Then add a bag of dried beans. The rest is embellishment, depending on what you have. And if you have nothing else, it’s still delicious, filling, and nourishing. 

This recipe may be doubled, tripled, quadrupled. Actually this really isn’t a recipe, it’s a suggestion of ingredients. Amounts given are based on what’s in the fridge, the cupboard, and the root cellar. 


Bailout bean soup

Serves a crowd; make a lot, and freeze it.


1 cup dried pinto beans
3 cups diced sweet potatoes
1 -2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red, or green, bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp chili powder (or to taste)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp Mexican oregano
1/2 tsp smoked Spanish paprika 
1 bay leaf
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1 copy MFK Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf

Additions or substitutions: 1 canned chipotle pepper, 1 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped tomatoes, strong coffee, tomatoes, winter squash, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce.


Follow your favorite method of cooking dried beans. I soak them overnight in fresh cold well water. In the morning, place beans in a stock pot and, using fresh water to cover, bring beans and bay leaf to boil, then reduce to simmer for 1 to 1-1/2 hours until tender.

While the beans are simmering, read Chapter IV “How to Boil Water” from How to Cook a Wolf. Fisher writes with elegance, raucous humor and common sense. Written during wartime shortages of food and money, her book is seasoned with recipes, advice and philosophy for keeping the wolf at bay.

Bring water to boil in a small sauce pan, and add diced sweet potatoes. Cook until tender, about 10-15 minutes.

Drain beans, reserving liquid. To the liquid, add brown sugar and seasonings. Whisk until thoroughly incorporated.

In a small frying pan, sauté the onion, garlic, peppers in oil until the onions are translucent.  Stir in seasoned bean cooking liquid and simmer for a few minutes. Add the beans and sweet potatoes. If needed, add boiling water. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until it suits you.

With bailout beans, a mess of collards and green chile cornbread, you will, to paraphrase Fisher, hear the wolf’s “sad sigh, and then the diminishing click of his claws as he retreats down the hall and out into the foggy night.”

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Black bean and peach soup
Everything-from-the-pantry bean soup
Twisted Three Sisters soup
Pueblo vegetable stew
Paste e fagiole

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


This was great. Sounds like a great combination of ingredients.

That's a lot beans you have there.

I have been collecting recipes like this to make for the upcoming times we probably will be going through...thanks for sharing your Bean Soup recipe...

Brilliance in a pot (and recipe title), Marcia and Lydia!

Your writing does justice to MFK Fisher. What a beautiful post!

a brilliant post and a nourishing recipe. thank you marcia and lydia!

Kalyn, it was a happy coincidence of available ingredients!

Peabody, truthfully, half of those are grains. But yeah, beans and a million types of cornmeal take up alot of space in my larder!

Andy, exactly! It would be great if you would share one of your recipes.

Alanna, as for the title: the second I heard 'bailout' on the news, I thought 'beans'! Thanks.

Mae, what a lovely and encouraging compliment. Thank you.

Meeta, thanks for the kind words. Nourishment will be the word this winter!

I'm so late it seems all I can do is second all of the above!
Love that title. Gorgeous bean soup!

Such beautiful fall photos just break my heart - winter will be here soon, but I'll be ready with this soul-warming soup. Such a lovely guest post!

My Kitchen, ..and the wonderful thing about beans is that they taste as good as they look!

Marilyn, fall is achingly beautiful, isn't it? I love your phrase 'soul warming'...soups really are.

Just got on the computer to download my camera so I could rush over to my neighbor's to watch while they make jelly with some autumn olives (I have no clue what they are!) wash some persimmons to make persimmon bread. Can't pass up a photo op and learning exprience like that! But I saw your soup, while I was waiting for the camera, and wished I had a bowl of it right now. Tomorrow maybe . . .

This made me go get my copy of How to Cook a Wolf, and remind myself why it is my favorite book by her.

This looks delicious - and I love the name of the recipe. I have a question for you, though. What do you do when they don't LIKE beans? Hubby won't eat anything w/beans. Kids only eat them if they're refried. LOL Any suggestions?

I totally adore those colors! and I miss them!

Cora, So that's what you do with autumn olives! It's an invasive species here, although the birds like it. Persimmon bread sounds delish. Hope you have time for the soup today.

Pam, me too!

Dawn, my sister swore she didn't like beans, she would never like beans, and she wouldn't eat beans.
And then she was a guest at Lydia's where Floribean Chicken Chili was on the menu. (see Perfect Pantry's October 4, 2007 post). Being a polite person, she ate them. And now, she tries bean recipes all the time. So, maybe that will work for your family! Good luck!

Tigerfish, there is nothing like a New England autumn. And this year the colors were especially deep and rich. Glad to bring them to you.

What a beautiful photo! I definitely think that a TRUE good cook can make something delicious with whatever he/she has on hand!

I love the title of this recipe. Thanks for reminding us all that bean soup is not only cheap, it's delicious! Your ingredient suggestions sound amazing.

Maris, Great definition of a TRUE good cook!

Hillary, You're right, beans are such a wonderful answer to thrift and taste.

I've really gotta start reading more Fisher.

Nate, she's always the most satisfactory read, isn't she?!

I've had pinto beans in the cupboard for more than a year.
Can I still use them?

Candelaria, Yes you can. I have. But, the current year's dried beans are much better with more flavor. Often super market beans are old. (but not labeled as such) There are websites which sell this year's beans. Thank you for writing.

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