As an avid vegetable gardener I have often kept a root cellar, or something similar, for storing harvested produce. In one house it was literally a hand dug portion of the basements exposed to tree roots and in another a field-stone basement. Putting food by just seems like a natural progression for those of us who celebrate life with soil between our hands.
At one time I lived in an old farm house on a double lot. My vegetable patch wasn’t very big, although it sure felt like twenty acres come harvest time. Many of my homegrown root vegetables—potatoes, carrots, parsnips, garlic and onions—would be set for storage in a cool dark corner of the basement.
In this farm house, I’d head down the back kitchen stairs into the Michigan basement—hand dug, dirt floor, fieldstone walls—and from inside the cellar, unlock the bulk-head doors over the cement steps that lead outside. I could then carry into the basement directly from the gardens bins and bags of barely cleaned root vegetables for storage.
A lot of these old fieldstone basements were formed with a ledge about four feet up. I’m not sure why, but thank the Good Lord for a perfect place to set the produce. The overhead beams were old and as hard as the stones, so twine was threaded between them and the up-stairs floor-boards to hang the garlic and onions; the herbs went into the attic. Once everything was hauled into place, the mouse traps would be set. Michigan basements are known for harboring the neighborhood mouse population.
There was also a fair amount of tomato canning that took place. That is until I got the upright freezer and stopped the boiling-pots-in-August insanity. I never made sauces with the tomatoes after that, preferring to freezer-pack them fresh and often unpeeled. When they thawed out, the skins just slipped off and the added flavor from them was worth the mess.
Feeling a bit out of sorts as the dark days of winter wore on, I would often look through cookbooks and old magazines for meal options. The publications from the Christmas season always showed fancy foods and fabulous families, neither of which were part of my world. The days were dark, and I was feeling much like the produce in the basement waiting for purposefulness.
I needed to do something, I needed to share. I had no idea who would be the recipient of the food I was fixing to cook, but I knew the Holy Spirit would make a suggestion.
I had a fair amount of pot roast left from the previous night’s dinner. To this day, I still haven’t figured out how to make a small roast! I decided that this would be the protein I needed in a soup. I grabbed a stock pot from under the sink and headed to the basement with my old black lab slowly following me down the steep stairs.
Loaded with the produce I would need, back up to the kitchen I went. The pot was so heavy that I plopped it down every other step until I got to the linoleum. Up and onto the counter it went, and out the veggies came into the sink that I now started to fill with cold water.
I had a sweet potato in the fridge; one of the magazine recipes had used sweet potatoes instead of white ones in a stew. It sounded like a nice note to add, so I pulled that out along with the meat, celery and seasonings.
With the wooden handled veggie brush, a Fuller Brush housewarming gift from long ago, I scrubbed the skins of the potatoes and carrots. Peeling the parsnips and store bought rutabaga; I set them all together on the over-sized walnut cutting board next to the cabbage.
Having already rinsed the kettle and set it on the stove to dry, I dumped in the stock and lit the burner and donning my apron, albeit a little late, I set about combining the soup. This recipe has fewer servings than the first over-excited-to-share version.
Winter Roots Beef Soup
6 cups beef broth (avoid cubes of bouillon, they give the root veggies an odd saltiness though bouillon paste works fine)
½ to 1 lb. leftover beef roast, diced
1 large potato diced, peeled if the skin is tough
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
½ rutabaga, peeled and diced
2 parsnips, peeled and diced
¼ head red cabbage (or green) shredded
14-16 oz. diced tomatoes, frozen or canned
2 stalks celery, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
¼ -½ sweet onion, finely sliced and then cut slices in half
¼ tsp. celery seed
¼ tsp. thyme
1 tbl. parsley flakes, or ¼ c. fresh parsley, diced
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Literally, dump all of it together into a stock pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook until potatoes are tender. Serve.
This is a hearty soup with a rich beefy flavor. You can use leftover turkey breast (only!) or chicken by switch the broth to 3 c. vegetable and 3 c. beef. Realize that using chicken or turkey stock changes the taste significantly, and not for the better in my opinion. Leftover pork does not work well at all.
I often freeze leftover roasts in anticipation of making this soup knowing that I can easily double or triple the ingredients. But be mindful of the herbs and seasoning if tripling. Double them first, and then after simmering a while, taste to see if want to add more.
Acts 14:17 …yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.