30 April 2011

Letting Go ... A Story of A Ham Bone and Some Books

Today is Saturday, a day when most folk have kids home from school, when teachers are taking a day for family time and home errands, when many from the work-a-day world take a break and maybe curl up with a good book. For me, it's a day of letting go. You see, after guarding the kazillion books that were part of my years in classrooms from grades four through eight, I have finally begun the process of letting go of the dream of returning to a classroom... and hence, the books. So many wonderful titles have passed through so many young hands over time. They've been read aloud for pleasure, used for lessons in reading, writing or science and social studies, shared with younger schoolmates in reading clubs, and loved. Since leaving my last classroom, they've sat on the small study shelves, indeed dominated the shelves, in the grey cottage here in New Hampshire.

Retiring a career and a dream is a hard thing to do. Letting go of the 'tools of the trade' is also very difficult. It makes things final; it forces a severing that seems drastic and heartwrenching. I've been feeling sad for about two months, as I finally confronted the need to stop agonizing about the dire job market for teachers in New Hampshire. The situation has really forced my hand. I must finally admit that I. am. retired.  Life moves on ... and these books can benefit new readers and maybe new teachers.

So... I weed through the many beloved titles and make boxes to (hopefully) supplement some teacher's classroom library, or some school library whose budget has been trimmed of the fat, or some home-schooler's bookshelf, or some church school's youth program. Every book I handle has some memory associated with it - a kid who shared it during a book talk, a title I used to enhance a particular lesson, a kid who became an eager reader after struggling to find his or her reading niche, or a group of students who begged for 'just one more chapter, Mrs. L !'. And as I weed, I feel so strongly the we should never underestimate the power of books ...

So, while I'm trimming the fat in my study, I'm simmering a ham bone from the Easter ham to make Chuletón - a Puerto Rican ham and bean soup. Where did I get the recipe? From a book, of course!  This soup consists of a strong ham broth that is simmered with onions, turmeric, and cumin. After a long simmer, the ham that has fallen from the bone gets 'pulled' into bite-sized pieces, the bone gets chucked, the broth is chilled and the fat skimmed  from the broth. Then, the soup gets put back on the heat and rice, potatoes, carrots, and pigeon peas get added.

Another slow simmer cooks all the veg, beans, and rice up. The salt and pepper seasonings get a correction, a huge handful of fresh cilantro gets stirred in, and, in our case the soup is served up with warm slabs of cornbread, a glass of  red wine, and tonight ... some bittersweet memories of my years in teaching.

Puerto Rican Chuletón - printer friendly

Puerto Rican Chuletón


1 large hambone with meat and gristle attached
6 - 8 c. water
2 large onions, chopped
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/8 tsp. allspice
1/2 c. rice
3 - 4 potatoes, peeled and small dice
3 - 4 carrots, peeled and small dice
2 small cans, pigeon peas or navy beans, drained and rinsed
salt and black pepper, to taste
1/4 c. fresh cilantro, chopped

Making the Soup:

1. Cover the hambone with water and bring to a boil in a deep stock pot.

2. Add the onions, turmeric, allspice, and cumin, lower the heat and simmer for an hour or two.

3. Remove the hambone and cut off the meat, making small bite-sized pieces.

4. Strain the broth into a deep bowl and chill it. Skim excess fat from the top of the broth.

5. Return the broth with the meat and onions to the pan, add the vegetables and rice, and bring to a bubbling simmer.

6. Just before serving, add the beans and warm them thoroughly. Correct the salt and pepper seasonings, add the cilantro, and serve with a warm bread of some sort.


  1. What a truly lovely and honest post. I adore reading and vividly remember my mum reading to my brother and I at the breakfast table every day from the special Andy Pandy books we had. I loved those books. Letting go must be so hard. Great soup too. Bet it packed a punch in the flavour department too!! Xx

  2. Your post almost brought tears to my eyes. Oh I do love books. We have books books books everywhere and I just brought two baskets home from my mom's shelves. She is letting go of some of here books too. Your classroom must have been a haven to so many children through the years and to give a child the gift of a love of reading is a noble thing indeed. Thank you for teaching and putting your heart into it.

    I am making this soup tomorrow. This is the first time I've seen a bean soup use a ham broth and I'm intrigued. Just the thing for stormy rainy days!

  3. As a career changer who sought her dream to teach, albeit for only three years before being laid off two years ago I'm still hopeful that I'll find a job! Your post brought tears to my eyes. This year I'll finish my masters in Library!

    On a happier note, your soup looks delicious and I'll be making it for my husband! Thanks for sharing a great recipe!



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