I consider this perfect fall/winter soup recipe part of my Yankee heritage, migrating as it did, in a wood-paneled station wagon, from our home in Pittsburgh to South of the Mason-Dixon Line.
In January of 1974, two years after my mother lost my father to Hodgkin’s lymphoma, she found love in Floridian Jack Rogers, and I acquired a truly spectacular new dad (lightning can strike twice), and two spectacularly annoying but now beloved brothers. Pennsylvania Peggy was a package deal–my beautiful young mother came with awkward, 7-year-old me, her widowed mother (my Grammy Walsh) and maiden Aunt Peg. Estrogen4.
My mom and I moved into the Rogers bachelor pad on Stonehurst Road; my grandmother and aunt encamped temporarily in Grandmother Rogers’ guest house, where they encountered for the first time a flying cockroach in the tiny kitchen, and decided they would eat all their meals in the hospital (‘hospill’ in Pittsburgese) cafeteria until their new apartment was ready.
In addition to the roaches, it took a while for us Yankee hens to adapt to the strange Florida climate (the humidity!), foliage (saw palmetto and monkey ear trees?!), and cuisine–decidedly southern with Latin influences. My dad and new brothers were used to eating things like grits, pickled okra, corn bread and black bean soup.
The story goes that my mother, trying to please her new husband and accommodate her mother and aunt at the same time, made a big pot of black bean soup for supper, and delivered a casserole of the lumpy, inky concoction to Aunt Peg and Grammy Walsh. After my mother departed, I understand the conversation went something like this:
Grammy Walsh: What did Peggy bring us for dinner?
Aunt Peg: Oh my lands! Come see!
Grammy Walsh: It looks awful! That color! And the smell!
Aunt Peg (fetching keys for the Chevy Nova): Let’s just go eat at the hospill.
In time, my mother’s Strawberry Kitchen, like her marriage, settled into a beautiful harmony of old Pennsylvania and new Florida flavors. My father and brothers realized they’d struck gold with my mom in the culinary department. We all licked our bowls clean when she served her vegetable beef soup, and eventually, Aunt Peg and Grammy stopped eating at the hospill and even began to tolerate black beans.
A couple notes about our vegetable beef soup recipe: I always double it, because everyone wants seconds plus leftovers. It also makes a nifty gift packaged in Ball jars (see below). Paul and I are both going visiting around the peninsula this week, so jars of this yummy autumn concoction will be making their way to Fort Lauderdale, Jupiter and Fernandina. If you do double it, make sure you do so in a gigantic container. Doubled, this fills my 8 quart stockpot almost to the brim.
Also, know that this is a very forgiving recipe. Add whatever herbs or veggies you like. Sometimes I add sliced cabbage. The turnips will surprise you! They basically transform themselves into cubed potatoes with cooking, sans all the carbs and the calories. Plus, they add a delectable tang to the soup. Also, I soak the beef overnight and then use the water to make the soup, because this is what Grammy and Aunt Peg did. I’m not sure it really does anything — no online recipes I could find follow this technique — but I keep doing it because, why mess with success?
Yankee Vegetable Beef SoupCourse: MainDifficulty: Easy if time consuming
Served with bread, an old-school one-dish supper. Doubled, it’ll sustain a family of 4 for a week. Just be sure to use a huge pot.
1.5 lbs. stewing beef, cubed
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, diced
2 stalks celery, chopped, with leaves
1 russet potato, peeled and cubed
2 medium turnips, peeled and cubed
16 oz. bag frozen mixed vegetables
1/2 bunch parsley
14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1/2 small can tomato paste
1 beef bullion cube
1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 cup pearl barley
- Place beef in large bowl and cover with cold water; cover and refrigerate overnight.
- The next day, extract beef from water, using slotted spoon, and retain soaking liquid. Pat dry and season with salt and pepper.
- In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-high heat and saute beef cubes for 4 minutes. At the same time, preheat oven to 250.
- When browned (doesn’t have to be cooked through), remove beef cubes from pot, using slotted spoon, and set aside.
- Using same pot over medium high heat, add onions, garlic and celery and saute in pan juices, about 5-7 minutes, until slightly softened.
- Add reserved soaking liquid (or fresh water if you didn’t soak beef), and ALL remaining ingredients, including beef. Bring to a simmer on the stovetop.
- When soup is simmering, cover, and transfer entire pot to the preheated oven.
- Soup will be ready to enjoy in 3 hours, but benefits from up to 5 hours of slow cooking.