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History of the McClure Bean Soup

McClure, Pennsylvania is proud of its living memorial to all veterans of all wars at the annual Bean Soup Festival and Fair, which originated by McClure (and surrounding area) veterans of the Civil War.

On July 23, 1883, a group of veterans of the Civil War met on the second story of the Joseph Peters Blacksmith Shop in Bannerville, PA, for the purpose of organizing a Grand Army of the Republic Post. After several preliminary meetings, the first session of the newly formed post was held on October 20, 1883.

This organization held many get-togethers and observed “bean soup festivals” from time to time, but not until 1891 did this Bean Soup Celebration invite the public to a real Civil War bean soup dinner.

Records show Comrade Ner B. Middleswarth was the chairman in charge of this celebration and secured from the war department “real hard tack” to be served with the bean soup. Comrade Henry Kahley, who was a cook in the Civil War was in charge of the soup, assisted by another veteran, Comrade Aaron Bickel. The thinning of the ranks in the early 1900’s caused them to feel that the celebration should be carried on by their sons.

After that, the Henry K. Ritter Camp #65 Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War and citizens of McClure, and from 1937 on, the McClure Realty Corporation have put forth the effort to present this novel celebration which uses tons of beans, a ton of beef and a ton of crackers to serve the tens of thousands who attend each year. The making of the soup in large iron kettles is done over a wood-fired battery of furnaces capable of handling 16 large iron kettles at one time. Each man stirs two of the kettles during two hours and twenty minute shifts.

After seeing it being made and partaking in the main attraction of eating some soup, one can enjoy the many varied attractions which have been added including amusements, rides, concessions, displays, parades, fireworks, Civil War re-enactors, FREE gate, and FREE nightly entertainment.

As of June 30, 2008, McClure Bean Soup officials were notified by Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Wolff that the McClure Bean Soup was granted the status of fair. Please join us as we celebrate the honor of being one of the 117 Pennsylvania State Fairs and can thus join in promoting Pennsylvania’s number one industry, agriculture. Over 60,000 of your friends and neighbors attend the Bean Soup annually!

Civil War Beef Bean Soup Recipes

The original recipe of the first Bean Soup was simple: 20 pounds of beef, a large bucketful of beans, and water. Cook and stir until tender (usually 3 hours).

A later recipe with equal portions of beef and beans, pound for pound, water and cook and stir until done. In the 1960’s the recipe was as follows: “Into each 20-gallon cast iron kettle put 16 pounds of ground beef, 8 pounds of suet and all the dry navy beans a 16 quart bucket holds. Use clear spring water. As the soup simmers, stir constantly with a10-pound wooden paddle for 2 hours or longer till beans are soft and disintegrated. No seasoning is used. 25 pounds of beans and 15 pounds of beef and 6 pounds of suet and handful of salt. All of the above are cooked over wood fires. All are stirred with large wooden paddles with big wooden finers to cream the soup by brushing the beans.

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