Vegetable beef soup
All of us old folks who lived through the depression, remember just how difficult it was to cook meals with a limited income. Our family was no different, and we found ways to stretch a dollar. Lots of meals consisted of vegetables that were really inexpensive those days.
When lucky enough to have a real honest to goodness roast beef, we used left over bones to make soup. My paternal grandparents lived with us. Grandma worked at Gimbels Department store. Grandpa Hoffman had an affliction that made his hands shake terribly and could no longer work. There were no “welfare” benefits because he was ill. Grandpa spent his days reading, propping up his books on a windowsill in the corner of our dining room.
My grandma Mamie spent her days off cooking for the family. She taught me how to make great gravy, one day showing me how to use those beef bones to make vegetable beef soup from scratch. .I was thinking about that day last week, when we had a full day of rain and dark clouds. It was the perfect day for making some kind of comfort food to warm the house and the tummy.
Knowing that this food warms my soul, as “comfort food” does, I got busy. Out of the freezer came a package of frozen stew beef and a left over bone — that I had frozen weeks ago after a dinner of roast beef — and I did the usual microwave defrosting. I cut up the beef into bite sized pieces until they were nice and brown, added an onion and celery until they looked just about the right color.
Then I added carrots and I never make this kind of soup without cabbage. Having some left over from making coleslaw, I was on my way. It was time to put in frozen peas, string beans, corn, some beef broth and a can of tomatoes. Everything got seasoned and put the whole big on the back burner to marry the flavors until it was time; a few hours later; to add the potatoes.
All of this time I was remembering when I made this kind of soup, a time that could never be forgotten. It was way back when we had little, a time my five boys too think about back in 1964. We’d settled in Santa Barbara, Calif. and three of us – my two oldest sons and I had found work in restaurants. Each evening we put all of our tips in a jar in the kitchen.
Taking out all of that money to put in the bank I paid the next month’s rent and the milkman. There wasn’t much left, maybe a dollar or two. It was a Thursday and I knew we’d all be getting our regular hourly pay the next day. I was still worried. Noting it was time to get some kind of dinner for my boys, I looked into the refrigerator.
We had the usual jar of mustard, some ketchup and mayo, and a few left over vegetables, including cabbage and potatoes; but no meat of any kind. I did what I knew how to do, I sautéed a half onion, some celery, the left over peas and string beans, and a half dozen tomatoes along with the cabbage and potatoes. Those days weren’t easy.
nobody back home would help me, everybody was angry with me for moving west.
Even so, I wouldn’t have asked for help, even if I could. Stubborn me. But I remember how I felt that day when I looked at that sorry pot of so-called soup, as I looked at the jar of milk I had made that morning from dried milk, and a single loaf of white bread. Somehow, I felt ashamed and scared and I wanted to cry.
The older boys understood, as we sat down to what I thought was a sorry meal, but I was really afraid of what the three little guys; all too young to understand, would say. Instead of complaining they ate up of storm and all asked for was could we all go down to the beach after dinner.
Yes, things got better, and I was remembering this as my son, Doug came into the house last week as I was finishing putting together the “makings” for the soup and the smell was wafting through the house. “Mom.” he said, “do you know what that smells like?” “It smells like home.”
Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer.