The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Editor's Homemade Soup

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1988

Issue: November, 1988

While everyone likes different combinations of ingredients in soup and will argue from now on about it, everyone has to agree on one thing - EVERYONE loves homemade soup!

Homemade soup is often at the center of fond childhood memories. Almost everyone associates a favorite soup as the "get well" prescription our mothers dosed us with. It was such a secure comfort when we were home sick from school to hear Mom bustling around in the kitchen preparing it, knowing we would be served (perhaps from a tray in bed) a meal that went beyond nourishment into tender loving care. For me that soup was potato soup; creamy white with a sprinkle of pepper and a big pat of butter melting on top. How could I have ever survived colds, flu's and other childhood miseries without it?

There were many economic advantages to soup also. Our mothers were very good at stretching a dollar. You could take a little bit of this, a little bit of that, which by themselves wouldn't have made one serving, but by combining them together, make gallons of soup; enough to feed even big families. Leftovers were gathered to go into the soup also, getting all the good out of food.

A good soup should be a blend of flavors with no one flavor dominating. With a variety of vegetables you will get a lot of different vitamins and minerals. Add beans or meat and you have protein also. Many times a child who is a fussy eater will eat soup when they wouldn't touch the vegetables served individually.

Possibly one thing that makes homemade soup so good is time. Homemade soups are not hurried. They are not fast food. They are put together in a big pot and put on a back burner to simmer for hours. This slow simmering extracts the maximum flavor out of each ingredient. For modern mothers who might not have this much "kitchen time" available. Soup could be cooking in a crock pot overnight or while away at work during the day.

The recipe below is the way I make homemade soup. I have listed some suggestions for variations you might like to try. I have been making soup for 25 years and have two grandchildren so that qualifies me to call it:

Granny's Homemade Soup

1 pound of beef
3 spring onions
1/2 pod of green pepper
2 tablespoons cooking oil

Cut beef into bite size pieces, removing excess fat; brown in the biggest cooking pot you have to which you have added 2 tablespoons of cooking oil. Throw in the spring onions chopped, green tops and all and the green pepper sliced in thin strips. Cook beef, onions and pepper together until beef is mostly done, stirring so the beef doesn't stick and burn to bottom of pot.

1 gallon of water
1 lb. potatoes peeled and cubed
2 carrots sliced in thin rounds
2 pods of okra sliced in rounds
4 ears of corn cut off the cob, scrape cob with knife blade to get all the good.
1 cup cabbage shredded
1 can whole tomatoes
1 can tomato soup
1/4 cup catsup
1/4 teaspoon salt
a pinch of chervil
a dash of celery salt
a dash of garlic salt

At this point, check the refrigerator for any usable leftovers to add. Spaghetti sauce is good, beef stew is too. Practically any meat except smoked or cured pork (their flavor will dominate the soup) is good; even leftover mashed potatoes is good but add it at end of cooking time as it tends to thicken the soup.

When you have added all the vegetables, add about another gallon of water and bring to a boil on high heat. When it is boiling good, reduce the heat so that the soup just simmers. Cover the pot and let it cook for about 3 hours. It doesn't really need any attention, but you might like to go by every once in a while and stir it just to enjoy the wonderful aroma coming out of the pot.

Other ingredients you might like to add are rice, barley, beans (any kind), or cheese. If you add cheese, cube it and put in just before serving, stirring just until it melts. Cheddar is especially good. Any kind of pasta (macaroni, spaghetti, alphabet noodles) is good. If you have leftover cooked pasta, you can freeze it and add it to soup. It is best to add pasta in the last half hour of cooking.

Homemade Croutons

If you happen to have some bread that is going stale, you might like to make your own croutons to float on top of the soup as it is served. Toast bread slices (plain white or whole wheat) slowly to dry them out. With a bread knife, slice into cubes; if you like plain croutons this is all there is to it. If you like fancier ones, try melting butter in a small pot and adding a sliced garlic clove as it melts. Remove garlic and add a sprinkle of oregano, basil and/or chervil to the butter. Stir and pour lightly over the bread cubes, being careful not to saturate them into sogginess. Toast them again in a slow oven for a few minutes to insure they will be served crisp. Store in an airtight container or plastic bag if there are any left over, and you can use them over a salad later.