I am really not a soup person. But there is one that brings back wonderful memories of walking on the dunes and along the beach of Lake Eirie in the fall. Nobody there but my Nana, my Mama, my sister, and me. It would be chilly enough that we’d be wearing Kangaroos (what we called hoodies with front pouch pockets back in the old days) and the water was cold enough that we’d only go in just past our ankles – it made our feet numb!

We’d find a stone ring that someone had used for a fire – there were always a few up and down the beach – and build a fire for ourselves. Mama had an old oven grate that she’d balance on the rocks, and Nana would bring a huge pot of soup from the car, as well as a loaf of good black pumpernickel bread. We’d play in the water, and hide and seek in the dunes, and find globs of black “beach tar” to collect  – we didn’t realize then that it was spilled crude oil washing up, and it was rare to find any – lake Erie was clean enough to swim in 50 years ago. >sigh<

When the soup was ready we’d gather around the fire and eat, dipping chunks of the bread into it. We’d talk, share stories, and Nana would talk about growing up on a farm in Czechoslovakia, with her six sisters. I loved those stories – she spoke of her family with such love, even though she had not seen any of them since she came to America at seventeen years old, and probably would never see them again.

So, here’s the recipe for Nana’s Barley Soup.

Ingredients

    • 1pound dry beans (Nana used a mix of black beans and pinto beans, but any 2-3 medium-large sized bean mix you like will do)
    • 1 cup barley
    • 2 medium onions
    • 2 medium carrots
    • 2 stalks of celery
    • 3-4 medium red-skinned potatoes (about 1 pound) Peeled and either diced or thinly sliced
    • 1/4 tightly packed cup of chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
    • 2 large cloves garlic
    • olive oil
    • 2 pounds smoked ham hocks
    • about 4 quarts water
    • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

  • Set your beans to soak overnight.
  • Take one (or two if they’re small) Smoked ham hock, and boil it until the meat loosens from the bone – at least an hour.
  • Take the hock out of the broth and put the broth to cool.
  • While the broth is cooling, take the meat off the bone, save the bone separately.
  • Dice the vegetables into medium-small pieces – whatever size you like for soup. (I like to make them a bit on the smaller side so more than one flavour can fit on the spoon)
  • Skim the fat off the top of the cooled broth. (Nana would put the broth outside with a tea towel over it to cool – the fat would solidify, so skimming it off was easy. You can put it in the fridge to get the same result.)
  • Break up the meat into bite-size pieces.
  • Combine the barley, potatoes, meat, and bones in a 6-8 quart pot. Add half the onion mixture to the pot. Then add the broth
  • Simmer 50 minutes or until the barley is almost tender.
  •  Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the rest of the chopped vegetables to a golden brown.
  • Add to the pot and season with salt and pepper. Simmer another 30-40 minutes.

Serve hot with a good loaf of bread. We can’t always get pumpernickel so we use any good crusty bread, or even a baguette.

This should be a thick but “soupy” soup, so add more water if it gets too thick.

Do you have a favourite soup recipe?

Why not share it in the comments!