The Food Story of Kate Stoltzfus - part 2

aka Grandma Showalter's Vegetable Soup

I adore this whole cross-country cooking thing, especially when it's with the likes of Kate Stoltzfus, who shared her beautiful food story in the last post.  Kate's choice of recipes - Grandma Showalter's Vegetable Soup - came connected with such a sweet story as well as Kate's hard work to get it figured out with no original written source to go by. Bravo Kate!  That it was absolutely delicious is an added bonus. This dish is down the vein of Swiss-German Mennonite in case you're curious.  Look at this to read more on that.

Before we go any further, Kate's words on the dish...
Every year at Christmastime, my family would make the long trek from Goshen, Indiana to Harrisonburg, Virginia to visit my grandparents. My Grandma Showalter would always have vegetable soup (most of the ingredients were frozen or canned from her garden) on the stove for us when we arrived. Nothing could be more satisfying after a 10-hour drive.
I'd like to thank my mom and Aunt Sadie for helping me "hack" this recipe. I'm pretty sure Grandma didn't use an official recipe so it's fitting I didn't start with one either. Her mantra: Good Ingredients = Good Results.

This dish showcases the vegetables of this season so beautifully, as I'm sure she knew. Why else cook it for your beloveds? It was simultaneously hearty and delicate, and although it sounds winter-esque, it also was perfect for this early summer. The ham hock brought it depth. The red pepper brought it an incredible interesting factor. All the veggies brought the color. On the morning of its making, my trip to the farmer's market had me glowing - pearly Walla Walla onions, bright little carrots. Not to mention the dark red cherries and intensely pink peonies. They all promised me good things, and Kate's grandmother's mantra was ringing in my ears...

I invited my dear friends, Janan and Levi, to dinner who so appropriately had spent the whole day working on their home renovation. (As is Kate!) They were dusty, weary, and in desperate need of some nourishment. In waltzes Grandma Showalter. Figuratively of course - by way of ham hock and savoy cabbage. We gave a toast to the woman before partaking, and by completion of the meal, nourishment abounded for all.

The nourishment abounding

My cooking thoughts...

On ham hock: As I said, it's what really gives this soup its true depth.  Basically ham hock is the joint between the hoof and the leg (the ham), and typically doesn't have a ton of meat on it so you won't always see it on display in the butcher's case. They'll have it in back though. This cut will quite generously give you tons of flavor. Thus its usage here.  In true Mennonite culinary fashion, they're totally inexpensive. Mine cost about 2 bones. Pun intended.  Also my butcher happened to have a smoked ham hock. I almost gave him a high five across the beef tenderloin. Don't skimp on the simmer time because you'll just be robbing yourself on flavor. Go read a book or renovate or house or something while it simmers.

On vegetables: Consider the nature of each veggie before cooking. Onions, for instance, are going to take longer to cook than cabbage which is why I've cooked them first, adding cabbage last. Onions that are out of season and from the other side of the universe are going to take even longer. Just a thought. As Kate said, taste them!

On vegetables, again: Add what you want. Be inspired by your own market or garden. Zucchini calling to you? Do it. Potatoes looking lovely? Great. I happened to have been gifted some very fresh fava beans from my neighbors, the Henriques, so I used those instead of lima beans. Thanks neighbors! I also had some great thyme in my garden so that was my herb of choice.

The Henriques fava bean gift
On salt: There is temptation to salt in phase 1, your stock-making, until it tastes like you want at the end, when you're ladling it into bowls. Resist this with all that you are because here's the thing - Salt does not reduce like liquid. What I mean is that as you simmer everything you're inevitably going to lose some of your liquid through that science-y thing called evaporation. But salt is NOT going to go with that steam. So if you season it totally at the beginning, you risk making it too salty. The moral: Wait till the end to bring it up to taste.

Okay I'm done.  May we now so warmly present...

Photo by Levi Cole

Grandma Showalter's Vegetable Soup

Yield: about 8-10 servings
Total hands-on time: about 40 minutes 
Total cooking time: about 6 hours, minimum

Phase 1: The Stock

1 ham hock (about 1.5 pounds)
1 head of garlic, cloves separated (peeling of cloves is optional)
1 large red onion, quartered (I used 3 small)
4 large carrots, whole
4 stalks celery
2 dried, whole red chili peppers (look in the "ethnic" food aisle near the salsas)
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh parsley
2 sprigs oregano (optional)
Generous pinch of sea salt

Photo by Kate Stoltzfus

1. Place all ingredients in large pot and fill with water till the ham hock is totally covered when you're pushing it down against the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil, skimming the surface with a spoon to remove the frothiness that comes up. Then turn down heat to simmer. Go read that book and let it simmer on low for at least 5 hours. Kate simmered hers for 12! I did the minimum 5. Note: If you're nervous about the red pepper and its spiciness, instead of adding it here, add it when you simmer the soup in phase 2, making sure to discard it before you serve the soup. 

2. Pour stock through strainer and discard vegetables and ham hock. Use immediately or allow to cool and store in the refrigerator till ready for use.

Phase 2: The Soup

1 large white onion, diced
6 celery stalks, chopped
5 carrots, chopped
1 cabbage with core removed, sliced thin (Kate and I recommend savoy cabbage)
1 - 15 ounce can of whole tomatoes
2 cups lima or fava beans (frozen or fresh)
2 cups cooked white beans (canned is ok)
2 bay leaves
2 heaping Tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped (You can use any herb, but just choose one.)
Ham stock from Phase 1

Photo By Kate Stoltzfus

1. Heat oil in large pan till the oil moves quickly on the surface of the pan when you tilt it. Kate used macadamia oil; I used olive. The choice is yours! Add onions and celery and saute them with a generous pinch of salt, covered, till onions have lost their crunch. The time this takes will depend on your onion so taste them as you go. Mine took 10 minutes. (Note: Don't let them brown. If they begin to brown, add a bit of hot water and scrape the bottom of the pan.)

2. Transfer onions and celery to soup pot and add ham stock (if you've allowed it to cool, heat it back up before adding.), carrots, tomatoes, both types of beans, and herbs. Bring the soup to a boil and then immediately turn down the heat and let simmer for about 45 minutes. The vegetables should keep a bit of bite and the beans should be fully cooked.

3. Now add cabbage and and let simmer till cabbage is tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes.

4. Season with kosher or sea salt to taste. The salt should bring out the ham hock and the red pepper flavors especially, without making it too salty. Taste it! Taste it!

5. For service - It's perfect with a thick slice of bread, and if you're in the baking mood the oatmeal bread from More-with-Less is a great partner.  A green salad and pork chop don't hurt much either.

Photo by Levi Cole

"Enjoy and share with a weary traveler..." - Kate Stoltzfus

Levi and I looking serious on supper (photo by Janan Markee)


  1. Thanks for a nice share you have given to us with such an large collection of information. Great work you have done by sharing them to all. simply superb. Photo Recovery

  2. Thanks, Katie! That's some beautiful produce. Glad you enjoyed the soup. Grandma Showalter would be pleased!

  3. Question. What do the veggies from the stock look like after they've been cooked. Are they total mush, or could you still add them to the soup?, or perhaps "in true Mennonite fashion" make something else from them?

  4. Ayesha, Thanks so much! So glad you enjoyed it!

    Emily, Great question! And very Menno of you! Love it. The veggies from the stock are in fact total mush when it's done. That said, I've been known (to the dismay of some of my foodie friends) to make a second batch out of all of it. It will pretty much be "meat water", but I think it still works well if you want a really mild flavor for like a sauce or pureed soup. Speaking of puree... you could experiment with a carrot or onion pureed soup with the veggies. Hmmm. Let me know if you do!!

  5. Emily, in my experience, the veggies are super soft and would not be good in the soup (all their goodness goes into the stock). Perhaps Katie has some ideas of what to do with them?! One resourceful trick about making stocks is you can keep vegetable peels (from carrots, for example) broccoli stems and other vegetables pieces that you might otherwise discard and use in your stock.

  6. I should have refreshed my page before my last post, Katie beat me to it!

    On another note, I wanted to share this link for stock made with vegetable remnants. Super reseourceful—I need to be better about saving vegetable pieces I usually discard. http://www.thesweetbeet.com/vegetable-stock/

  7. green vegetable,fruit its very important for good health.......nice post thanks for sharing ......