Add the onion, carrots, bay leaves and about a teaspoon of pepper. At this point I don't usually add salt because some hams are very salty. I wait until the very end of the cooking time to add salt if it is needed.
If your jar of dried bay leaves haven't seen the light of day in a while you will need the extras. As with all spices they lose some of their flavor the older they are. Now if you are lucky enough to have a bay tree growing in your back yard you would only need one large bay leaf. Fresh bay leaves are much stronger then the dried ones. I did have a bay tree years ago and can tell the difference between fresh and dry.
Turn the stove up to medium high and put you pot on the burner..
Preparing your beans:
Pour your dried beans into a fine mesh strainer and rinse. Remove any stones and any beans that are discolored. Once your beans are nice and clean dump them into the pot, turn the heat up to high and get it to boiling.
Dry beans vs canned beans. I use canned beans all the time when I make my chicken soup or my veggie soup. This is not the time for canned beans. I have never made ham and beans with canned beans. Since the beans are cooked already by the time your ham and spices had flavored your soup the canned beans would be mush.
Your probably also wondering why I didn't soak my beans over night. Well some people do that. I don't.
You can skip the soaking part. You might have to cook your beans a lot longer this way but again you would lose out on tons of flavor from the ham because the beans are soft after they have soaked over night and they would be done cooking in less then half the time.
This way it takes about 3 hours from start to finish. What I do is start my beans in the morning about 10 and they are done by 1 or 1:30.
Bring the pot of beans and ham up to a full boil and let them boil for about thirty minutes. Turn the heat down just enough to keep a good boil going but not so much of a boil that the liquid is sputtering out of the pot all over your stove. You can put a lid on but leave a gap so some of the steam can escape. You want some of the water to evaporate as it cooks. Stir occasionally and cook it like this for about an hour. Stir and turn the heat down so your ham and beans are at a simmer. Continue to cook it like this until your beans are tender. You can add more pepper at this point and taste it to see if it needs any salt. By now the water has probably turned a nice creamy color from some of the beans cooking down.
As your beans are cooking the ham and bone are flavoring the liquid. The meat is getting tender and falling from the bone in chunks. When your beans are tender you can pull the bone from the pot. Use a big spoon to scrap the tender meat from the bone into the pot.
That's all there is to it. You can make any type of bean you like this way. If you like split pea soup use dried peas. They will cook much faster then the great northern beans.
Bake up a loaf of Italian Bread.to go with it.
Nothing tastes better with a pot of bean soup then fresh bread. If you want to serve the beans over rice. Cook it down longer so it isn't so soupy and ladle the beans and ham chunks over a bowl of hot rice.