Helen Denny Mullins, my maternal grandmother, was the textbook definition of a classy woman. She had such poise and grace- I sometimes wonder if the word quietude was invented solely for her. She was a great companion to my grandfather, who suffers mightily in her absence. Grandma was a great cook who was born into a time when waste was simply unacceptable and you supplemented your food supply, and sometimes completely eliminated the need for something “store bought,” with what you could grow in your backyard. Being married to a farmer has its ups and downs, I’m sure; but the almost limitless supply of fresh vegetables during summertime most definitely was an “up.”
My mother learned how to cook from her and one of Mom’s favorite recipes she took as her own was Grandma’s Vegetable Soup. I grew up eating it and its cousin, Grandma’s Beef Vegetable Soup, which included 1lb of ground beef, and not chunks of chuck, in addition to the vegetables. Ground beef is a signature of this soup in the same way that the chili I grew up with, and still favor, is made with ground beef. I didn’t know Texas style chili, which among other things is the kind of chili with large chunks of beef from the chuck, existed until I moved to college. To avoid the controversy of whether soup or chili is traditional dependent on the cut of meat, I will simply suggest that you should follow the direction of your appetites, wherever they take you.
Now that I think about it, I do not recall ever having Grandma’s soup made by Grandma. I remember a lot of dishes and I am sure I must have had some fixed by her at some point, but certainly not in the same way that I remember what my mother fixed for the family. Isn’t that strange- knowing where the recipe comes from, being close to the person who created it, but I don’t remember it being prepared by her? And even if she did fix some for me, as I am sure happened, isn’t it even more tragic that I can’t remember it, even faintly?
Soup tends to be a cold season dish but you should fix it whenever you like. That said, this soup was always made a day in advance. I would not skip this advice- something happens when soups, and chilies especially, are allowed to rest a day before consumption. Also, it should come as no surprise that the ingredients listed below are mostly canned. You could instead use your own canned vegetables from your garden, if you so choose. If you would like to make this with fresh vegetables, it probably would be the best in terms of flavor, but I have found many canned items to be quite delicious on their own merits (which is a result of how they are picked and packaged in the first place) so I wouldn’t get quite so hung up about fresh versus canned ingredients. According to Mom, there is no particular approach to canned/frozen/fresh ingredients that is more authentic than another. That said, there is the issue of sodium consumption to worry about with canned items. Make your choice as is appropriate for you (if using canned goods, make sure no salt is added during the cooking process).
If you have any bay leaves around, you can use one, but there is no requirement to do so. When Mom told me what the ingredients were and how to prepare them, I realized that this soup is a much more spartan dish than what my memory would have me believe. If there is a secret ingredient, it’s the celery leaves that you mince from the bunch from which you get the two stalks. Depending on how much you like celery, you can add more or less of the called for 1/3 cup. You can use any of the leaves you like, but family tradition dictates using those from the center of the plant.
(If you would like to make Grandma’s Beef Vegetable Soup, add 1 lb. lean ground beef, broken up into small one inch chunks, in step 1 with the vegetables.)
Makes 8-10 servings.
- 1 (14 ounce) can stewed tomatoes with onion, celery and green pepper, pureed.
- 1 (8 ounce) can green beans- drained and trim in half if too long.
- 1 (8 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained.
- 2 carrots, medium dice.
- 2 celery stalks, medium dice with 1/3 cup leaves from bunch finely minced.
- 1 medium onion, medium dice.
- 8 ounces frozen okra.
- 64 ounces of low sodium chicken stock.
1) In a blender, pour in stewed tomatoes and fill container with 3 cups of water, puree. Mixture should appear pink. Reserve 1 1/2 cup puree for step 3. Pour remainder into in a 5-6 quart pot/dutch oven along with the green beans, corn, carrots, celery (and leaves, if using), onion, okra and chicken stock. If necessary, cover with water until the liquid level is 1.5 inches above the settled vegetables. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a vigorous simmer (small to medium bubbles breaking the surface in rapid succession, though not a boil, which is faster and much larger bubbles). Leave pot uncovered. Simmer for 45 minutes or until water is reduced to about a quarter inch above the vegetables (if you simmer too quickly or leave the pot unattended for too long, simply add water to compensate).
2) While cooking, it will be necessary to remove the okra “slime” (or “foam,” as I prefer to call it) that will be released during cooking. An easy way to remove this is to lay a paper towel across the top of the soup and let it soak up the foam as necessary. Alternatively, you could omit the okra altogether and replace its 8 ounces with another vegetable of your choosing- perhaps potato, if you like.
3) Once the soup has reduced, pour in the reserved stewed tomatoes. Stir to combine and let simmer an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool for an hour. Transfer to refrigerator. Re-heat the next day, add salt and pepper to taste, and enjoy!