Trek To Times Square Stop #1 – The Senate’s Famous Bean Soup Was Born Here

FARGO – Well, fellow trekkers we’ve made it almost a month now. “The Great Indoors Trek to Times Square” started on Jan. 1 and is an effort to virtually walk from Fargo-Moorhead to New York City by New Year’s Eve. I’ve been encouraged by many, including people who’ve reached out on social media to say they’re joining in this fitness trek inspired by one of my favorite TV shows “Modern Family.” Check out “The Great Indoors”blog on Jan. 5 to read more about that.

In the past four weeks, we have walked a little more than 100 miles, which means for those of us leaving from Fargo-Moorhead are now virtually in the Douglas County, Minnesota area – a lovely county, home to many lakes and the cities of Alexandria and Osakis. As I said in that first column, I’d like to celebrate each area we visit by highlighting notable recipes from the chosen area.

I reached out to a few friends from the region. I was proudly told that a recent viewer’s choice poll on WCCO-TV declared Jacob’s Lefse Bakeri of Osakis home to “The Best Lefse in Minnesota.” Residents also rave about the quality of the walleye caught in the county’s lakes. But I was especially intrigued by the story of Senator Knute Nelson and his contribution to the food folklore of the region.

U.S. Senator Knute Nelson, of Minnesota was the first Scandinavian-American elected to Congress. He is credited with helping create “Senate Bean Soup.” Photo: Douglas County Historical Society

Senator Nelson was the first Scandinavian-American elected to the U.S. Congress who served from 1895 to 1923 as both a senator from Minnesota and a representative from the Douglas County area. He was also the twelfth governor of Minnesota.

According the the Douglas County Historical Society, Nelson is responsible for the creation of “The Famous Senate Restaurant Bean Soup” that has been served in the U.S. Senate dining room since 1903,. That is, after Nelson expressed a fondness for it. Other stories suggest a Senator from Idaho is responsible for the creation of the soup and the addition of potatoes to it. But Douglas County has embraced it with a long-standing tradition of serving the soup as a fundraiser for the historical society.

Minnie Osterholt, simmers a batch of Knute Nelson’s favorite bean soup on the old wood stove at Douglas County Historical Society. DCHS occasionally holds soup feeds to honor Nelson. (Photo credit: DCHS)


To be honest, I wasn’t holding out much hope that the soup would be any good. It’s ingredients couldn’t be much more basic – navy beans, ham, onion, water, salt and pepper. Not to mention, I had a friend who claimed it wasn’t all that special. So I opted to soup it up a bit (pun intended). I figured Knute wouldn’t mind. After all, Americans are encouraged to get involved with their government. With the Senate’s approval rating in single digits, I figured I had nothing to lose and  made a few additions and changes which I think made the soup fantastic.

For one thing, I decided to make use of the leftover Christmas ham I had in a plastic bag in the freezer. So instead of a ham hock, I just used sliced spiral ham. I also cut down the beans to just one pound and added leeks, carrots and a lot more seasoning. My family enjoyed it with dinner rolls and green salad.  

Try a bowl for yourself as we bid a fond farewell to western and central Minnesota. Next stop on “The Great Indoors Trek to Times Square” is Minneapolis/St. Paul.

“Souped Up Senate Bean Soup”
Serves 25

4 cups of water
1 pound navy beans, rinsed
2 pounds sliced ham (I used leftover Christmas ham)
4 carrots, sliced
1 onion, chopped
3 leeks, sliced
4 tablespoons of butter
2 teaspoon seasoned salt
2 teaspoons ground mustard
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Put water, navy beans, and ham in a large stock pot and let it boil. Turn heat down to simmer for about 2 ½  hours. Remove ham slices and cut into smaller pieces. Add back to soup pot. Also add sliced carrots to pot and keep simmering. In the meantime, chop onion and leeks and set aside. Melt butter in saute pan. Add onions and leeks and cook until soft – about 4 minutes. Add to soup. Add seasonings. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Members of the Dakota Prairie Chapter of The North Country Trail are encouraging you to hike across the trail in North Dakota during “The Dakota Challenge.” Photo courtesy: Dakota Prairie Chapter

If you’d like a real trek….

While “The Great Indoors Trek to Times Square” can mainly take place on an indoor treadmill, a group of North Dakota hiking enthusiasts is encouraging you to take a real trek in the great outdoors.

The Dakota Prairie Chapter of the North Country Trail is sponsoring the “Dakota Challenge” where they’re encouraging anyone and everyone to hike the 428 miles  trail which reaches from Abercrombie to Sakakawea State Park.

Rennae Gruchalla, a member of the chapter, says one of the reasons they wanted to start the challenge was to raise awareness and interest about the beautiful trail that is just 20 miles from Fargo-Moorhead.

The North Country Trail extends 4,600 miles from North Dakota to Vermont. The trail stretches about 428 miles in North Dakota from Abercrombie to Lake Sakakawea. Map courtesy: Dakota Prairie Chapter

“We love goals and challenges,” she says, “We thought, ‘hey, let’s hike North Dakota.’ We love our state and we want to get close and personal with it. So many people don’t even know the North Country Trail is here. We want people to get out and enjoy it.”

Gruchalla says the challenge started January 1, and will go until the end of 2020. Hikers can hike it in segments or all at once with prizes and rewards given for progress along the way. In addition, they’re planning a few camping events and group trips during the span of the challenge. She says you don’t have to be a member of their club to hike and it doesn’t cost you a penny.

“There are so many benefits from the physical benefits of exercise to the mental ones of lowering stress,” Gruchalla says,”It’s a chance to unplug from technology and just enjoy nature.”

She says 19 people from the area have signed up and everyone is welcome.

“The challenge builds community and builds friendships,” she says, “when you hike, it builds a connection between people and that’s really cool.”

For more information:

Contact Rennae Gruchalla at:

Or go to the Dakota Prairie Chapter’s Facebook page @NCTinND