When Tennessee was part of the Virginia Territory in the eighteenth century, settled mostly by the English and Scotch Irish, cooking in the hill country revolved mainly around roasted meats, country hams, stews, and hearty soups such as this one based on dried beans, sausages smoked at hog-killing time, and the bounty of various greens. Today, the soup might well be enriched by ramps (wild leeks), which still grow abundantly in the Tennessee mountains and are even celebrated each spring at a ramps festival in Cosby. No debate on what to serve with this type of brawny soup: cornbread.
Place the beans in a saucepan with enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover, and let the beans stand 1 hour.
In a large skillet, heat the oil over moderate heat, add the onion, bell pepper, and sausage, and cook till the vegetables and sausage are slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large pot, drain the beans, and add them to the pot. Add the broth and water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer 1 hour.
Add the greens to the pot, add salt and black pepper and red pepper flakes, stir well, and continue cooking over low heat, covered, till the beans are tender, about 1 hour.
Serve in deep soup bowls.
© 2007 All rights reserved. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.