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Herb and Soup Daze!

With soup recipes in abundance this time of year I am reminded that they are prepared for very differently from the ones of my childhood. Those were the days when a “soup bunch” (vegetables) cost a quarter and the bones were a gift to the customer from the local butcher. The herbs were from your garden or a neighbor. It is no surprise that this was a daily dish for those on tight budgets. It was a hearty flavorful meal that was easily prepared and served, as well as filling and healthful!

   The word soup is derived from the Latin word suppare (to soak). Thus evolved the word supper!  It was often served with bread that was used as a scoop. This combination was the lighter end-of-the -day meal for medieval peasants.  Herbs and spices were often added based on their medicinal affects especially for those who were ill:
sage for sore throats, oregano for colds, thyme and lemon balm for their antiseptic qualities. Then there is amazing parsley: a cup providing calcium equal to eight ounces of milk, more beta carotene than a carrot and more vitamin C than an orange. Hard to beat that! 
   Soups vary by region in this country. There is New England clam chowder versus the tomato Manhattan version. There is southern gumbo, Midwestern  corn chowder and  Mexican varieties in the West. It is also country specific like Russian borscht, French onion and Italian minestrone. By the early eighteenth century the more affluent transformed it into a less substancial, often clear, first course dish.

The restaurant industry and classic French cuisine is based on the soup essentials of stock, broth, bouillon and consommé.  They are the basis for sauces as well as soups. Meat stock is the product of simmering the meat and bones in water for several hours.  Fish and vegetables stocks must be cooked for a much shorter time or the flavor will be lost. When strained and clear, stock is the basis for broth. Bouillon is concentrated brown stock (meat browned first) and consomme is double the strength of bouillon.
    Whether we start from scratch or use one of these liquids already prepared there are some basic things that will enhance soup’s flavor. The water should be good tasting and drawn from the cold water tap. Hot water is faster but the mineral and sediment taste is not suitable. A non-aluminum cooking pot that does not impart a metallic taste is also essential. The vegetables can be mature and shriveled but not rotten. The herbs can be fresh, frozen or dried. Meat can be of the tougher varieties and the bones cut up to expose more surface and marrow. The ingredients are placed in cold water for about one half hour before cooking starts in order to draw out the juices. Soup from scratch with raw meat will have to simmer for several hours. Cooked meat is added at the end of the cooking time.  

    If you want very clear soup, do not mix raw and cooked bones. Too many marrowbones can make the soup gluey. Starchy additions can make the soup cloudy and cause it to sour more quickly. Plan to eat it within a couple of days or add ingredients like noodles and rice as you reheat the soup. Skim the foamy, albuminous material off the top after the first hour of cooking.  Leave in some of this “flavorful topping” if a fuller bodied soup is your goal.
    Soups should be completely cooled before storing in the refrigerator where they will intensify. They can be kept there for about four days. They should be brought to a boil each time you reheat them. Be aware that if wine is used as part of the liquid the flavor of salt will become stronger.

    Don’t let the vast array of soup recipes daze you!  You can make your own stock and vary it any way you like. I am sharing a robust soup recipe and dry mix that I hope you will savor (see recipes). It is a tasty, enomical time saver that can be varied to suit your family. Contact me at with your favorite soup recipes. I hope you warm up with some sumptuous soup this month.


Robust dry soup blend

7 oz. dried split peas

6 oz pearl barley
6 oz. lentils
7 oz. alphabet macaroni (see variations below)
6 oz. rice (brown or white)
 2 cups dried minced onion
Combine all ingredients in an airtight container (see photo). Store in a cool, dry place. Add two whole bay leaves for flavor and to discourage bugs. The bay can also be used in the soup but remove before serving. Shake the dry mix before each use. Use within six months. 

Robust soup stock

Six cups of water

1⅓ cups dry soup blend (above)
½ Tbs. salt
2 chopped carrots
2 chopped stalks celery
1 ½ cups shredded cabbage
15 oz. tomato sauce
24 oz. vegetable juice cocktail
2 bay leaves
Herbs of your choice (variations below)
One pound of cooked meat (variations below)
Bring water, soup blend and salt to a boil. Cover and simmer for 2½ hours. Add remaining ingredients except meat and SIMMER until vegetables are done (to your taste). Add cooked meat. Season with more herbs, salt and pepper if you like.


The cooked meat can be leftover or freshly prepared (including ground beef or poultry).
Use seasonal vegetables
Seasonings: Add 2 Tbs. of fresh, frozen or 1 Tbs. dried herbs. Sage and lemon balm for poultry, rosemary for lamb, thyme or parsley for any meat, oregano and basil for Italian and Mexican
Quicker cooking noodles and macaroni can be added toward the end of cooking for the length of time specified on the package (see “starchy additions” section in column)
Serve with croutons, crackers, shredded cheese, or sour cream. Anything else?