Who does not like a good vegetable soup? I love it. It is one of my favorite foods. As I am writing this, I am eating a bowl of vegetable soup. Surprised? Well, neither am I. The one that I am enjoying, as I write, is heavy on potatoes, peas, and black beans, but it has corn, okra, green beans, and all kinds of other goodies, too. Sometimes, I like a tomato-based veggie soup, like Grandma’s. Grandma’s soup is the first one that I remember. It was home grown, home canned, and home enjoyed. It was different almost every time I had it, but it was always good.
I remember the pantry where the soup was kept. It was a long narrow room, painted white, with a window on the left and shelves, floor to ceiling, on the right. Although it was a small room, I enjoyed spending time there. I looked up at the shelves filled with all manner of things, including snuff in plastic tumblers which would one day be used to serve beverages, rows of vegetable soup on the shelf at my eye level, and many other jars of garden produce.
Grandma always had a bucket on her kitchen counter to collect the scraps for use in the garden. It was always open and there always seemed to be coffee grounds and egg shells in it. At the appropriate time, and I don’t remember exactly when that time was, she would take it and put it in the garden. I don’t remember if she just threw it on the ground or if she buried it, but, she was composting long before it was cool.
I grew up and moved out into the world and ended up in Florida in the first house we had ever bought. We also had a new garden. We bought a new-to-us truck, which we christened Bertha The Faithful Truck, and took her to a dairy out in the country to get a nice big load of aged cow manure to fill the raised beds that we had built in our backyard. Bertha handled it very well. At the dairy, a front-end loader scooped up a load and dropped it into the bed of the truck. I was not expecting the blow and almost jumped out of my skin. For the next scoop, I asked him to take it easy, please. He did and I was on my way. A friend and her son went with me to get the manure and they helped me to transport it from the driveway to the garden with a wheelbarrow. It took a while, but with all three of us, it was done that day and what a beautiful sight.
I got some plants and some seeds and soon I had a genuine garden, like Grandma’s. I was growing tomatoes, corn, green beans, okra, zucchini, and who knows what else. A few months later, when things were ready for harvesting, I got my canning materials together and called Grandma for her vegetable soup recipe.
“Hello!?” Grandma answered the phone with her high-pitched southern drawl.
After the usual pleasantries, I got down to business. “I am calling to get the recipe for your vegetable soup.”
“My what?” asked Grandma, with puzzlement.
“Your vegetable soup recipe. My garden is ready and I need your recipe so that I can make your soup. I love it and want to make it just like yours.”
“Yes, your vegetable soup recipe.”
“I don’t have a recipe. It has vegetables in it!” Grandma sounded like she was worried that I was a little soft in the head, after all. And, with her being hard of hearing, we were both yelling.
“I know it has vegetables in it, but I want to know which ones and how much. Basically I need a recipe, Grandma.”
“Well, it just has vegetables in it!”
Okay, I was pretty sure that this was as far as I was going to get, so I thanked her, told her I loved her, and called Mom. I had called Mom before I called Grandma, probably for another reason, and asked her if she had the recipe. She had suggested that I call Grandma for it. So, here I was, again, begging for help.
After some thought, Mom said, “If I remember right, Mother’s vegetable soup was just what was left in the garden after she had canned all the individual vegetables. It was different every year, due to how the garden did that year. I don’t even know if she added salt or anything else to it.”
Well, I had what I had and had to make do. So, I used tomatoes, potatoes, okra, green beans, onions, and various seasonings. Somehow, it turned out very good. It reminded me of Grandma, but it did not taste exactly like hers. Come to think of it, Grandma’s soup never tasted exactly like Grandma’s soup, either. It was always different, but it was always good. The best part of it was that it was made by my Grandma.
Soft sunshine on lazy summer days, corny jokes and laughter, the big white bible that had such wonderful pictures and was smack dab in the middle of the coffee table, the spicy and comforting aroma of that snuff which came in the colored plastic glasses, a big beautiful garden, a telephone party line, and the best vegetable soup I have ever eaten are only a very few of the happy memories I have of Grandma. She did not wear aprons all the time that I knew her. She may have when she was younger, I don’t know. She rarely wore dresses, but she wore capris, white socks, and sneakers. She sang hymns and funny little songs, crocheting in her recliner with the spit jar next to her within reach. She had comic books in her bed. She loved Total cereal for lunch, which is a whole other story. I will never forget her pineapple upside down cake, which she told me does not need to look good, which it did not, but to taste good, which it most assuredly did! And, I have her wooden spoon, which is worn down from all the stirring that she did. I use it to stir my soup.
I love my Grandma. I miss her.
Mom was talking to Grandma on the phone one day, discussing plants and gardening, when Mom remembered a joke. So, she asked Grandma what the difference was between a male chromosome and a female chromosome. Grandma said, “Well, I don’t know. Maybe you can take them back to the nursery and see if they know.”
Copyright 2020 Virginia C. McCoy