We’re Cooking Again – An Old Time Recipe From My Grandma

We’ve had a bumper crop of green beans here on Glen Road and I have been thinking about a green bean soup recipe that my Grandma used to make from as far back as I can remember.  The problem was that I didn’t have the recipe and I would never be able to make the soup from memory.  So I had my mom and aunt confer and get back to me on how to make this old-time soup just like my Grandma used to make it.  There are a number of foods that I remember from when I was young and this soup was one of them.  I know to many that the idea of a green bean soup will not sound too appetizing.  However, when you add thinly sliced onions, cubed potatoes and a garlic-laced roux, you end up with a slightly thick green bean stew with lots of flavor.  My recipe is for a double batch.  Some to eat now and some to freeze for later this Fall when soups just seem to taste better.  So if you have a late season green bean harvest and don’t know what to do with them, why not give my Grandma’s green bean soup a try.  It starts with some fresh green beans:

Ingredients:

  • 4 to 5 cups of fresh green beans (cleaned and snapped into 1″ pieces)
  • 4 to 5 large potatoes (cleaned, peeled and cut into cubes.  I used Yukon Gold potatoes.)
  • 1 medium yellow onion (thinly sliced.  A mandolin works perfect.  We are onion lovers so feel free to use less onion if you wish.)
  • 6 tablespoons of flour
  • 6 tablespoons of melted butter (let the butter cool slightly before using)
  • 6 to 7 cloves of garlic
  • Salt and fresh pepper to taste

Directions:

Place green beans, potatoes and onion into a stock pot and cover with water.  Add enough water to cover all the vegetables.  Place on medium heat and boil until the vegetables are tender.

While the vegetables are boiling, start to make the roux.  Just the word “roux” makes most people think of some fancy cooking routine that takes a lot of time and patience.  Don’t let the word fool you.  A roux is nothing but a cooked mixture of flour and a cooking fat, like butter or vegetable oil, that is used to thicken sauces, soups and gravies.  A couple of things on the roux for this soup:  first, you want to cook the roux until it turns a deep golden brown.  Second, keep the garlic in the pan until it starts to brown and then remove it.  If you leave the garlic in too long and it burns, it will ruin the flavor of your roux.  Last, mix the flour and cooled, melted butter in the pan until well combined and then add the whole garlic cloves before turning the stove heat on.  Here are a few pictures showing how the roux will progress.

The beginning–the flour and cooled, melted butter combined and then the garlic cloves added before turning up the heat:

The middle–the roux is now more sauce-like and lightly simmering:

The end–when the roux is a deep golden brown, take it off the heat and let it cool a bit before you add it to the vegetable mixture.  Note that the garlic cloves are gone.  Again, make sure to remove them when they begin to brown.  If they burn, your roux will not be good and you will need to start over.

Once your vegetables are tender, add the roux into the vegetable pot and stir the roux until it combines with the water.  Once combined, add plenty of salt and pepper.  Taste buds vary, so add until you are satisfied.  I tend to add more, versus less, salt and pepper.  For me, it’s around 1 tablespoon of salt and about three teaspoons of pepper.  Remove the pot from the heat and let the soup sit for a few hours.  This is one of those dishes that is better the longer you wait to eat it.  Letting the soup sit for several hours or overnight in the refrigerator allows the flavors to combine.  When ready to eat, place the pot back on the burner and simmer until hot.  Ensure that the salt and pepper levels are adequate.  Serve it any way you like.  In our house, we eat just the soup with some fresh bread or rolls.  Any way you serve it, this hot and hearty soup is one that pleases.  At least it has in my family for almost a century.  Enjoy!!

Back To School Haircuts

There is a beauty salon in town that is advertising back to school haircuts.  It was these ads that made me decide to perform a few haircuts in my back yard.  Namely, my two weeping cherry trees and my Rose of Sharon bushes.  They had simply gotten out of control.  They were too tall and too bushy.  I decided since all of them had done their thing for the season, now was as good as time as any to give them a little makeover.  The picture above is the final result.  Two trees that fit better into their small garden spot and Rose of Sharon bushes in between the trees that are more orderly and compact.  I also used this time to trim down my hydrangea plants, which had gotten too big over the last few years as well.

My haircutting team started with reducing the heighth of each tree.  This meant literally cutting the top four feet off of any branch that grew straight up towards the sun.  Each tree had about 8 – 10 vertical branches that needed cutting.  After taking care of the height problem, each tree looked much shorter and fit better into their small garden spot in the back yard.  Liking what I saw, I then applied the same cutting plan to the Rose of Sharon bushes and made them much shorter as well.

Making the trees appear less bushy was a matter of finding the ends of the branches that hung out the furthest and snipping them off close to where they connected to the main trunk.  My guess is that snipping branch by branch took about 2 feet out of the width of the trees.  The Rose of Sharon didn’t need much pruning to reduce their width.  In this cluster of bushes, only about three or four branches were trimmed.  The last step with the trees was to make sure all of the hanging (weeping) branches were cut so they had a proper distance between them and the ground.  After making sure each branch was hanging at the same level as all of the rest of the branches, it was time to tidy up the hydrangea.

With the hydrangea, it was important for me to make sure none of the branches were laying on the ground or, as some of the branches had done, were hanging over the stone wall.  I also wanted to make sure there was ample room between them and the hosta plant that grows between my two clusters of hydrangea.  Based on my research, these mophead hydrangea (H. macrophylla) need to be trimmed and cut after they have bloomed, but before they have set their buds for next year in the tips of year-old wood.  I felt that now was the perfect trimming time and I made sure to be a little aggressive and really clean them up.

I may have gone a little overboard in trimming up my mopheads, but I was so happy to see my giant leaf hosta take center stage between both clusters of hydrangea.  I had forgotten how beautiful the hosta was because the vast majority of it has been hidden behind hydrangea stems for quite a few years.  After I was done trimming the hydrangea, I was quite happy with the results.  I think I trimmed them at the right time, there were no stems or leaves on the ground or over the side of the stone wall and there was adequate space between them and other plants.  All in all, mission accomplished.  I gave what I think were some pretty good haircuts and I didn’t even need to go to beauty school.

I’m Not Proud Of What I Wear In The Garden

I don’t really think about what I’m wearing when I’m in my garden.  I want to be in clothes that are comfortable, but other than that, I don’t really care what I look like nor do I have any other requirements.  My clothes don’t need to match (and usually they don’t), they don’t need to be designer (I mean, I’m rolling around in dirt) and the more holes in the cloth, the better (I think of the holes as added air conditioning).  There are a few things I always wear or have with me–my plastic gardening clogs, my wide-brim hat with its SPF of 50, light-weight gardening gloves and I always have my foam cushion handy for my knees when I’m down on all fours digging or planting.

Yesterday was no exception.  I had on my wide-brim hat, a purple t-shirt, my blue gardening gloves, charcoal sweat pant cutoffs (to accentuate my pale white legs), dress socks and my gardening clogs.  What was different was that I had a friend stop by who walked into the back yard and surprised me.  He looked at me with a horrified, yet amused, look on his face and told me that I was some gardener.  I said thank you as I took off my hat and ran my hand through my thick and sweaty hair that was sticking four inches up into the air.  You know the look….the one that looked like you curled your hair with dynamite sticks.  This was not one of my more handsomer days.

After my friend left, I got to thinking that most gardening blogs that I read never really show the actual gardener in all of his or her glory, unless the picture is a staged one taken by a photographer.  You don’t really see what the gardener looks like or what the gardener is wearing in the many posts that are out there from our vast gardening community.  Do we not show ourselves very much because, like me, we tend to look a little on the crazy side?  Or perhaps, unlike me, most gardeners look great and wear nice polo shirts, jeans and comb their hair before spending the day out in the garden?  So my fellow gardeners, it is time to confess…..what do you look like when you have a long day of gardening ahead of you?

The Crazy Things We Do As Gardeners – My Havahart Trap Results

Since my garden has taken on a second life, I have been keeping the Havahart trap armed and ready for action.  I’ve come a long way since catching that first woodchuck.  I no longer scream when I discover a critter inside the trap.  I have a process down that when I see that I’ve trapped something, I call this man who comes over and removes the critter to a place far, far away.  I still am too scared to release the critter by myself.   I also have the perfect recipe down to put inside the trap–two chunks of cantaloupe, two chunks of apple, a carrot, a stalk of celery and two cabbage leaves by the entrance to entice the critter to enter the trap versus the garden.  It seems to be working although recently I’ve mixed into racoons versus woodchucks.  I know what kind of destruction a woodchuck can create in a garden.  What about the racoons?  Does anyone have garden issues caused by racoons?  I can’t say I’ve ever heard of garden woes caused by racoons, but I’m sure there are stories.  At best, the racoons have gotten into our garbage can and made a mess, but I have never seen them among the rows of vegetables out in my backyard.

There is a part of me though that is still sad every time the man takes the animals away.  It’s sort of a feeling that I’m putting the balance of nature in my backyard out of whack.  That I’m disrupting some sort of backyard ecological balance.  Isn’t nature all about survival of the fittest?  I’ve read stories on other blogs of people battling nature in order to grow a garden, so I know I’m not alone.  I guess it’s just another one of the tough and crazy decisions you have to make when you start a garden.