Williamsburg Beef Soup with home grown vege

by Janie Jones

The last of the garden came in recently. I made a big pot of our favorite beef soup- directly from a historical Williamsburg recipe. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough green beans come in this year, so we used store bought. We didn’t grow the cabbage either. We did have a shit pot of parsnips and a respectable harvest of carrot, which feature prominently in this soup. Yumm!


2 Comments to “Williamsburg Beef Soup with home grown vege”

  1. That looks great. Share the recipe?

    • I’m happy to share. Although, as this recipe originally came from a colonial Williamsburg plantation cookbook c 1792 (and was reprinted in 1938), it made enough for a small army and called for some preparation techniques not normally practiced in modern kitchens. I’ve tried to size it down and make some reasonable substitutes, but it still makes about 10-15 servings. It also didn’t give overmuch direction on quantities of the spices. For instance, it calls for a spoonful of salt and a bundle of parsley, where it calls for any measurement at all, because two hundred years ago that was perfectly clear and probably these recipes were handed down orally so the person writing it the first time knew exactly what they meant. Now, however, we are left to guesswork and the cook’s privilege of frequent sampling 🙂 If you try it, let me know what you think.

      In a very large stock pot, over medium high or high heat, sear the edges of a whole 2-3 pound beef roast in some butter, bacon grease or oil with salt and pepper to taste. I prefer bacon grease if I have any on hand, otherwise I use butter. I use a sirloin beef roast, but I imagine any cut of beef would do. (The original recipe calls for 4 pounds of rump steak to 5 quarts of water, but that seems like a devil of a large quantity!)

      Reduce heat a bit, and add about 2-3 stalks of chopped celery, one large roughly diced onion, and about a tablespoon of minced garlic. Add seasonings to taste, I use about 2-3 teaspoons of ground mace, 2 teaspoons of thyme, 1 or 2 bay leaves, and about 2-3 tablespoons of parsley or chervil. The recipe also calls for marjoram and 4 cloves, but I don’t keep marjoram in the house and am not especially fond of clove so I omit. Saute until onion becomes tender.

      Optional: This step is not in the original recipe, but I think it does add a nice rich flavor to the soup. I add several splashes of Marsala cooking wine and cook down until the wine, fat and seasonings make a thickish sauce. I almost always have some cooking wine on hand, but if you don’t have any and don’t want to buy for just this recipe you can omit and still have a yummy soup.

      Add about 3 and a half quarts of beef stock to the pot and bring to a boil. Add about 1 smallish diced turnip, 2 or 3 small or medium diced parsnips, and about 2- 3 good sized diced carrots. Reduce heat to a simmer. I also like to add a bunch of fresh green beans cut into bite sized pieces, although the recipe doesn’t call for them. Simmer until all vegetables are tender, this may take a while.

      Carefully remove roast. Slice into bite size strips about a quarter or a third of a good sized cabbage, depending on how much cabbage you like and how much room is in your pot, and add to the soup. While cabbage is cooking, cut beef roast into bite sized pieces, then return to your pot.

      When cabbage is tender, test your broth, and if necessary adjust your seasonings to taste, then enjoy!

      BTW, the original recipe has you add a whole cabbage, then before serving remove the cabbage and the beef and serve separately which seems silly to me so I serve it all together. It also calls for “two rolls in slices” toasted. I think the point is to use them as thickener for the soup. I omit this part in favor of a clear soup.

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