In a Bohemian folk tale, a vagrant soldier surprises an entire town when he plunks two polished rocks into a caldron and says he’s going to make “stone soup.” The curious villagers are eager to have a taste, so they gladly bring a few carrots, onions, turnips, and other vegetables to spice up the broth, and everyone ends up with a good meal, even the soldier.
Church members, heeding President Spencer W. Kimball’s call to plant gardens, won’t likely be contributing their vegetables to someone’s stone soup. But they may, in cultivating their gardens, discover a delightful secret—they can grow many of the ingredients of a hearty soup, including spices, right in their own backyards.
In fact, the “soup garden” is a horticultural endeavor custom-tailored for the youth in the Church. With a little curiosity they can churn up enough information to cultivate a small but well-stocked garden and in the process learn about raising plants, help lower family food bills, and enliven dinner menus with fresh, home-grown produce. It doesn’t take a lot of ground, just a little careful planning.
Even if Mom and Dad have a large garden already, they would probably be glad to reserve a corner for their children’s soup section. Or if your family lives in an apartment, you may want to check special plants bred to grow in pots indoors or examine window garden ideas.
Whatever family members plan, they should keep one thing in mind: Gardening conditions vary widely. The best source of information will always be a local gardener who has had enough experience in the geographical area to know what will work and what won’t. Venture out to a local garden store, call a university extension service, maybe even visit a farm—it’s a fun way to meet new friends, and most vegetable lovers are glad to talk shop.
There are some gardening tips, however, that are acceptable almost everywhere. Brother Gene Christiansen of the Liberty Park Ward, Salt Lake Liberty Stake, who works for a large seed distribution and gardening company, offers a few suggestions for those who want to develop what he calls a “mini garden.”
To begin with, don’t overdo it. A small, well-tended garden will be a source of enjoyment; the burden of a too-large one will quickly drain enthusiasm. Rows are designed for large areas and use up space. A more practical planting procedure may be what professionals term the “French intensive method.” Keeping in mind that each plant must have room to mature, the gardener plants them as close together as possible. For example, rather than cultivating two or three rows of carrots, an entire small area could be planted. If the carrots are to grow to one or two inches in diameter, then they will need some room for soil in between, so individual plants should be about three inches in any direction from other carrots.
Most root vegetables can be grown fairly close together. However, instructions for spacing on seed packets are usually written with rows in mind. A rule of thumb would be to observe suggestions about distance between plants and disregard the recommendation about space between rows.
Sometimes vegetables can be intermingled, either with other vegetables in the same plot, or perhaps as borders in flower gardens. Some vegetables seem to thrive when interlaced with other plants throughout the landscaping.
Consider the possibility of planting quick-growing radishes between lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, or broccoli plants and then harvesting them as the leafy crops become large and start to crowd them out. Or use carrots as a border for a flower garden or red cabbages to add color to an otherwise green landscape. Another trick—alternate carrots and radishes in the same row. The radishes reach maturity sooner, so when they are harvested, the carrots are automatically thinned.
About the only plant that doesn’t do well on its own is corn—it needs the company of its own kind or it dwindles. Always plant it in clusters or rows, and count on the outside plants to be smaller than those in the center.
Another tip for a soup garden is to plant a crop with a short growing period as soon as possible, followed by another crop when the first one is harvested, such as peas followed by beans or beets.
While there may be room for an experiment or two, remember that the main function of the vegetable garden is to supply food; so stock it with family favorites. It’s possible to try growing just about anything if proper climate and soil conditions exist. But don’t get carried away with one exotic crop—it may become commonplace if it’s served for every meal. Plan for variety.
Spices and herbs are fairly easy to cultivate, and they will add zest to any soup. Red and green peppers thrive in many areas. Parsley is a colorful garnish and grows almost anywhere. Sage endures once it gets established and boasts an attractive flower. Chives grow successfully, even in an indoor pot, and can be trimmed repeatedly and still grow back. Garlic sprouts only from its own cloves and should be planted early, because it requires 120 days to mature. Thyme, anise, sweet marjoram, and basil are usually available on well-stocked seed racks, but oregano is hard to find. Check locally to see if other favorites are available.
Here are a few other general reminders:
—Vegetables need at least six hours of sunlight a day. If all that’s available is a low-light location, concentrate on leafy vegetables. Some other plants will grow in shade but will produce less and take longer to mature.
—The garden site should be relatively level. If there is a steep slope, run rows of plants across it. They will hold water longer and will help avoid erosion.
—Just about any soil will benefit from the addition of organic matter, such as manure, peat moss, or dead leaves. Also, before planting it’s a good idea to spade soil to a depth of 12 to 14 inches.
—Be careful with fertilizer. Lawn fertilizer will make plants produce lots of leaves and stems but not many vegetables. All fertilizers have a three-digit code. The normal one for vegetable gardens is 8-8-8 or 16-16-16.
—The simplest way to eliminate plant pests is to remove insects, worms, or eggs by hand. Remember to inspect plants regularly. Some shake-on powder or liquid bug sprays that are relatively safe include vegetable and tomato dusts, diazinon, and sevin. A local garden shop will know what they are.
—Give seeds a chance. Most people plant them too deep. Proper depth is approximately four times as deep as the seed is thick, which often isn’t very deep.
As the first vegetables begin to ripen, the rewards of all the hoeing and weed pulling start to manifest themselves. Mom’s potato soup may include spuds grown just outside the kitchen door, with a few onions chopped up and stirred into the cream to perk up the taste. Or perhaps the tomato soup will be made from scratch, using the fruits of some industrious deacon’s own vines.
Sound appetizing? Start planting now, then. Remember, though, that all the vegetables may not be ready at the same time. Some may need to be frozen or preserved in another way until you can mix all the ingredients (except the magic rocks) to stir up your favorite soup.
Boil two or three soup bones with meat attached, along with a handful of rolled oats and a chopped onion, until tender. Add water as necessary. Then add:
Several small potatoes, cut up
Several pieces of peeled squash
2 or 3 turnips, cut up
2 or 3 carrots, cut up
1 or 2 apples, cut up
1 or 2 red potatoes, cut up
1 handful of rice
Boil until done, adding water as needed. Serve vegetables and meat on a plate, juice and rice in a bowl.
In a pan of cold water, place several soup bones, pieces of chicken, or other favorite stew meat. The water should cover the meat. Add one-half teaspoon of salt. When the water is boiling, add the following vegetables:
2 or 3 potatoes
2 or 3 onions
1/2 of a small head of cabbage, cut in quarters
2 or 3 turnips
2 or 3 stalks of celery, including leaves
A packet of spices, called a “Bouquet garni,” made of the following: 3 or 4 sprigs of parsley, 1/2 bay leaf, and 2 sprigs of thyme, tied together for easy removal before serving (some like to include a garlic clove).
When the mixture starts to boil again, put the heat on simmer and let it cook for three hours. Serve with bread and Swiss cheese; grated cheese may be spooned into the broth.
An Italian soup. To make about four cups, simmer the following in a kettle for about an hour:
1 quart beef broth
1 handful chopped meat (beef, chicken, or ham)
1/2 cup kidney or lima beans (elbow macaroni or rice can be substituted)
1/2 cup fresh peas
1/2 cup chopped celery
Brown the following ingredients in butter or olive oil, then add to the others:
1/2 cup chopped cabbage
1/2 cup chopped spinach
1 small minced onion
1/2 tablespoon parsley, garlic, or sage according to personal taste
1 diced carrot
1/2 cup diced tomatoes
Simmer for one-half hour, then serve. Some people like to add Parmesan cheese.
6 tablespoons butter
3 large onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup water
6 pounds zucchini squash washed and thinly sliced (5 quarts)
2 large green peppers, cleaned and cut in thin slices
3 cloves garlic
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup lightly packed parsley sprigs
1 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves and/or 1/4 cup lightly packed fresh tarragon leaves, if desired
1 can regular strength chicken broth
1 bay leaf
Melt butter in 8-quart or larger pan. Put in onions and cook, stirring until soft. Add water and then stir in squash and green peppers, garlic, salt, and pepper. Cover and cook for 3 minutes; then turn down heat, cover, and simmer, stirring often until squash is very tender (12 to 15 minutes). Remove from heat; stir in parsley sprigs, basil leaves and/or terragon leaves. Puree about 1 cup at a time in a blender until there are 3 cups; then empty the blender and start over. Makes 6 pints. Can be frozen until used. Heat to simmering one can regular strength chicken broth (or two cups water and two chicken bullion cubes) and bay leaf. Add one pint of the puree. Heat, stirring until piping hot. Season to taste with salt. Remove bay leaf. Serve.
Other options include vegetable stew, bean soup, cream of spinach or asparagus soup, corn chowder, and French onion soup, for which recipes can be found in most cookbooks.