Pick over the beans, discarding any stones or bits of debris. Place the beans in a colander or strainer and rinse well under cold running water. Drain. Place the beans in a large stockpot or bowl, add the water (it should cover the beans by 2 inches) and soak for 8 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
Heat the oil in a very large stockpot over medium-low heat. Add the bacon and saute, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 15 minutes.
Add the onion, carrot, and garlic to the pot and sweat, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft but not browned, about 10 minutes.
Drain the soaked beans. Add them to the pot along with 8 cups stock and the bay leaves. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, uncovered, until the beans are tender and the vegetables have practically dissolved, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Stir the soup occasionally to make sure the beans aren't sticking to the bottom of the pot. If the soup becomes too thick, add additional stock or water. Most of the beans should keep their shape, but some will fall apart enough to thicken the soup.
Remove the pot from the heat and season with salt, pepper, Tabasco, dry sherry, and vinegar. Remove the bay leaves.
Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with any combination you like of sour cream, diced onion, fresh cilantro leaves, and chopped hard-cooked egg.
Recipe courtesy of Staff Meals From Chanterelle (Workman, 2001) by David Waltuck and Melicia Phillips
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