Wash the beans and cover with cold water in a large stock pot or kettle. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and boil gently for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand for 1 hour. Do not drain. Add the ham hocks, garlic, pepper, and bay leaf. Return to the heat and simmer for approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Remove the ham hocks, cut the meat from the bone, and return the meat to the soup. Season to taste with salt. In a skillet melt the bacon drippings and add the onion, cooking until lightly browned. Add the onion to the soup. Simmer for 30 minutes, or until the meat and beans are tender.
Note: If ham base is available, use a heaping tablespoon to increase the flavor.
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