Remember when soup always had to simmer?
Apparently, our grandparents knew something about soup that we’ve forgotten, even though we strive to be good stewards of the practices that made us who were are.
We’ve sacrificed many things in the name of progress, and one of those things is soup—especially vegetable soup.
Making really good soup takes time…time for the flavors of the various ingredients to release some of their own identity and blend together to form an entirely new essence.
In many homes, serving really good soup ceased about the time modern gas and electric stoves replaced coal and woodburning cooktops of the past.
Remember those huge black cookers and ovens that dominated nearly every kitchen back then?
Yes, they were dirty, took up too much space and required considerable tending, with wood to be hauled in and ashes to be hauled out.
Still, they were a comfort…and they helped make the best vegetable soup.
I realize it takes time to make good soup, and I suppose that’s why most people today elect to live without it.
But I maintain that the time it takes to make a big pot of vegetable soup is time well spent.
In fact, time is one of the essential ingredients.
Years ago, it was common to have a big pot of soup sitting on the back of the old cast-iron cookstove.
Mother (or Grandmother) would start with a few soup bones, bits of meat and some water, then add other ingredients for two or three hours as the soup slowly simmered to its perfection.
A few celery leaves here and a few peas there…tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbage, beans of all kinds, green peppers, turnips, corn, parsley—all were added as part of the culinary routine.
Whenever vegetables or salads were being prepared for other meals, bits and pieces found their way into the soup pot to add flavor.
The soup, all the while, simmered slowly, filling the entire house and half the neighborhood with a mouth-watering aroma.
A dash of salt, some black pepper, a thorough stirring now and then and an occasional taste-test were all part of the process.
Everyone in the house, plus any friends and neighbors who sometimes dropped in, got to sample that soup before it was officially served—we kids especially.
My cousin Russel Rice always dropped a passel of crackers in his bowl, and, of course, I followed suit since I was younger. Then we’d head out to the theatre to see a western or two before it was time to turn in for the night.
When the dinner hour finally arrived, deep bowls brimming with all that goodness were accompanied with thick chunks of blazing-hot cornbread slathered with butter.
What a meal!
With all due respect to modern methods, there’s not a canned or frozen product that can come close to that kind of flavor.
Their makers put forth a solidly, sufficient effort, but nothing could ever make vegetable soup better than those old cookstoves—with the help of someone who really cared…and given the time to simmer.
Even now, after all those decades that have flown and gone, I still think of Grandma’s house and the friendly folk who frequented her cozy, country kitchen, sagely to partake of elegant vegetable garden cuisine, simmering in a black witch’s kettle on the back of the woodburning stove.
Making a big pot of vegetable soup during the Yule Tide helps me keep in touch with family traditions, those that included hot country cornbread baking in the oven and fragrant coffee boiling in the old, blue-speckled coffee pot, wafting its way through the hallways and corridors of our once cheerful realm.
A pot of vegetable soup served as a kind of unifying influence that neatly bound our family members together.
It was a time when all the children’s shoes neatly lined up in the parlor and all their coats and hats hung in the front room.
It was a time for making memories that would avail for a lifetime.
It was a time for love and festivity, for just being together and sharing spiritual devotion and a wholesome pot of Grandma’s vegetable soup.
Top o’ the morning!