Wednesday, December 7, 2011

GranGranny's Tomato Vegetable Soup a la Mayree

Howard and Sara Lois Mohundro, Grandaddy and Granny, lived in a little house on Parker Drive in Memphis, Tennessee the day I met them - the day after X and I married.  I'd wanted to meet them so badly, X talked of his grandparents often and fondly, and with good reason.  They were all he claimed and more.  It didn't take but a moment of Granny's scrutiny to ascertain that I was, indeed, a farm gurl from hard-working folk, just like her.  She would have loved me anyways, for X's sake, but she didn't have to;  I could work doing the things she knew (like cropping the larger leaves on the greens instead of pulling the whole plant up), scurry to bring in her myriad pot plants and dig the banana trees when the first big chill threatened, Hoover (Hoover?! it was a new term to me, meaning vacuum) the floor furnace AND light the pilot light -- all without being told.  Working and cooking went a long way in Granny's book...

Grandaddy.  Wwwwwwell (and that's the way he said it, a long 'w' and a waver in his voice)... He was something else.  Sitting on the back porch any evening when the weather allowed with them brought stories, augmented I'm sure, of souped up motors and running moonshine up and down the Tombigbee Hills of Mississippi.  I adored him.

I adored them.
This was their 60th Anniversary Celebration at
AJ's house in Olive Branch.

One evening, X and I were visiting Granny and Grandaddy in their home.  The Fellows were staying with AJ and weren't with us.  I forget the occasion to be in Memphis but we had time to sit a spell and get caught up on the latest family gossip news.  They'd been watching the television.  Loudly.  Granny was having a hard time hearing the conversation going on over the tv.  She turned, looked at Grandaddy and said "Mute it."  Grandaddy began flipping through channels carrying on his conversation.

A second time, Granny said a little louder, "Mute it, Howard."  And again, Grandaddy picks up the remote and begins flipping through the channels, continuing the dialogue of keen observations on family behavior that only he could observe in the way he did.

Granny (I still get the jiggly giggles just thinking about this!) leaned forward in her chair, flopping her paper on the corner of the table between them, and repeated "I said MUTE it, Howard!!!"

To which Grandaddy replied, "There ain't no d*mn news on SaraLois!!!"  Grandaddy said Sara Lois like S'raLois -- kind of all one word that evening.  He didn't get in a hurry about speaking any one word, much less two, but he sure spit out her name that night.

X and I fell out of our chairs from lack of oxygen, trying to hold in the laughter. 
Annnnyways.  Granny made the best vegetable soup.  I loved having soup and cornbread at her house.  She made it for Grandaddy the way he liked it, super sweet.  To say Grandaddy had a sweet tooth is like saying the Pope is Catholic, possums play dead, or the sun shines.  It's a given.  

I've scanned the recipe so you can see Granny's instructions.  You'll notice that it contains a WHOLE cup of sugar.  Surely enough, you'll see that she mentions that this is the way Grandaddy likes it.  You know it's love when enough sugar for a gallon of sweet tea goes into a pot of soup!

I put mine together a little differently because we like it meatier tasting.  I found, through the years of making this, that cooking everything with the tomatoes from the beginning resulted in a very different sort of tomato taste than adding them at the end.  It also makes a thicker broth from the beginning and  butter beans and field peas take forever to cook in it.  Maybe not forever -- but a longer time than in the thinner meat broth.

Here's what you'll need:

Cast iron soup pot.  What?  You don't have a big ol' cast iron soup pot? Mine doubles as the greens pot and the chicken and dumplings pot.  Bless your heart.  I suppose any large pot will do, it needs to hold four quarts comfortably. 
Four cups of ham, chopped fine, if starting raw.  I kind of shredded this and doubled the amount.  It was already cooked and would fall apart in the stirring.
28 ounces can of tomatoes.  I like the Red Gold crushed tomatoes.  They're economically priced but don't taste like it at alllll.
A medium onion, diced kind of small.
Two small potatoes or one large one (whatever is in that pantry will work just fine).
One cup (or so) of  butter beans, field peas, okra, carrots, green beans, and English peas.  OR whatEVER is in your freezer or on the shelves available.  This evening I didn't have butter beans (how'd that happen?  I always have butter beans!) so I put in English peas.  
If you like bell pepper, by all means add it in.  I like bell pepper just fine, but not in a vegetable soup like this.  It's overpowering.  There doesn't seem a way to get a small 'taste' of bell pepper by using a small amount.  I don't use it in soups.
Three quarts of water.
Dice/shred ham. 

Yikes.  I've not even been in the Kentucky egg nog tonight
and have blurry photo!
Place in soup pot with water 
 and put on heat to come to a rolling boil for ten or fifteen minutes.  
There's no time on this step.  It should be long enough for the salt in the ham to impart to the water and make a rich ham broth.

Butter beans and peas take about the same length of time to cook so add them to the boiling ham broth.

If fresh carrots are being used, they'd be added now and cooked with the peas/butter beans/ham broth 'til almost tender.  There weren't any carrots in the crisper;  they were in the freezer so they'll get added later.  Semi-finely diced onion and potato are added to the soup pot.
The rolling boil is continuing in the background as soup ingredients are added.  When the potatoes are almost done add everything else but the tomatoes (and don't forget the little dab of corn that was all there was in the house).

Is it smelling incredible yet?  Why, yes.  Yes it is!  Add seasonings.  Since this is a shank ham (with precious little smokey flavor) I'm adding liquid smoke, garlic powder, and black pepper.
 I promise, I've not been into the egg nog.

I know. Fresh garlic IS better but it's cold outside, the wind is blowing, and the garlic is happy being warm under it's covering of dirt.  I wasn't going out to dig any. 
Granny's soup was always very sweet for Grandaddy.  Y'all ought to try it just once the way she's written it.  The tomatoes require something to knock the edge off but since this is ham, I'm going to use 1/4 cup of local honey.  Surprise ingredient!!!  

Now it's time to add the tomatoes, adjusting salt if necessary.

Yes.  Even though I wipe the tops and bottoms of
metal cans to open, if possible, I always open the 
bottom.  Mama's voice saying "You don't know
what ran across the top of that can" lingers...

I'll leave the lid off for the soup to simmer for another 15 or twenty minutes.  Everything is fully cooked in it now, it's just a matter of the flavors melding and the broth continuing to thicken a little bit.

Ooops.  I forgot to take a photo of the finished soup in the pot before bundling it up to carry to church tonight to share!
That's a sneak peak at the ingredients
for Mrs. Camille's Spiced Tea...

Tadadaaaaaaa... We've eaten our fill and this is what's left!  It's hearty. I made a pun!  There's almost no saturated fat in it whatsoever.  Filling.  Hot.  The light doesn't do it justice, it IS red.  Don't laugh at my bundling.  I've discovered that thread-bare cotton rugs are fabulous insulators for hot foods AND, if placed in any number of larger baking dishes, will absorb any wayward spill from the food!

There was a bowl of fried pitty-pat (small hand-formed)
biscuits made to go along with the soup.  I would've made
cornbread, too, but ran out of time!
Granny almost always made hers with ham.  The Fellows actually prefer it with ground beef.  All you need to do is brown the beef and pour off the excess fat to start the process.
Go check the pantry and freezer.  See if there's the makings for this pot of love.  Your fambly will thank you for it!


  1. woww !! everything looks so yummy !!

  2. Reading this story again, Mayree, and loving it even more. What an endearing memory you share with us. The soup is very interesting - we had something similar called Hamburger Soup that Amy still makes today. Big Mama made it for years, but I must admit, no sugar. Maybe that's what it needs. I'll tell Amy. Dear thoughts for The Fellows' loss tonight. maryb <3 <3