In last year's GreatHallowTweet, I got all nostalgic for my great-grandmas and their unlikely Halloween traditions. This year, I'm all nostalgic again, but this time it's for my grandma Boots.
I grew up in a very small town in Northeast Iowa and while that town was small (literally one stoplight, my friends), I actually grew up 10 miles from that town on my folks' farm. Needless to say, there's not a lot of opportunity to trick-or-treat in the country. Sure, there were a couple houses that we would hit up, but we were literally the only kids that would go to those houses and that was because they were neighbors. The serious trick or treating was done in Waukon. My older brother and I would go with our cousins Ryan and Tracy and our moms and hit a handful of houses before we'd retreat back to my grandparents' house. And every year, my grandma would serve this soup.
What's funny about this recipe is that I have the barest inkling of what went in it (except for the rutabagas - and that's because my old friend and classmate Aaron would supply them to my grandma). Here's the email that I sent my mom: "I know that I've asked you this before … but how did grandma boots make her Halloween veggie soup? I'm doing a Halloween week at ShelleyBakes and was going to feature that recipe."
Here's my mom's response ... "She boiled soup bones (beef) and then put in some leftover roast beef in the broth. It's pretty much the same as hamburger soup otherwise, but no tomatoes or sugar and when Aaron brought her rutabagas she'd add some of them cut up like the potatoes. Simmer it in lots of broth (add canned if you need to) with potatoes, carrots, onions, and add peas or corn if you want ... sometimes she just added a bag of frozen mixed veggies...as you can tell it was never the same twice! ... P.S. To save time she'd do the beef stuff and bones in the crockpot with water over it."
Sigh ... that's the thing with family recipes - sometimes they aren't really written down and you have to recreate them from memory. Even if it's a memory from about 20 years ago ... So this is my best guess.
Grandma Boots' Beef Soup
I made the soup for Sunday dinner, but it took a little bit of advanced planning. So Saturday, I made a batch of beef stock. I used about 8 cups of stock to make the broth for this soup and ended up using a couple tablespoons of dried au jus mix (and some Worchester sauce) to give the stock a little more color and flavor. (My stock is going to be a work in process ... it wasn't quite right this first time at bat.)
1 lb. stew meat
1 medium onion, halved and sliced
4 lg. carrots, large chunks
2 medium potatoes, large dice
1 medium rutabaga, large dice
8 c. beef stock
2 T. dried au jus (I used the LeGout au jus base)
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
Take whatever pan you make your soup in and put in 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Brown your stew meat in batches. After the meat is browned, deglaze the pan with a little bit of beef stock to get the browned bits off of the bottom. In this, saute onions until tender. Add remaining vegetables, the browned beef, stock (with au jus mixed in) and bay leaves and bring to a simmer. Remain uncovered and cook until the vegetables are tender (about 45 minutes to an hour). Serve hot in bowls and salt and pepper to taste.
Obviously, this soup - like any others - tastes better the next day.
So how did reality stack up to nostalgia? Well, the soup was good, but it definitely wasn't my grandma's. I also know that this soup would have really done well had it featured more herbs (Thyme? Oh most definitely.). But I was really focusing on trying to recreate a dish that I remembered from childhood and although many years have passed, I don't ever recall my grandma having fresh herbs in her kitchen. When I make this again (because the chunks of vegetables made want to swoon), I will definitely put more of a Shelley twist on things.
Thanks for indulging me in a little nostalgia. In case you're wondering ... here's a picture of my grandma. She was a pretty stylin' lady.