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Thursday, December 17, 2020

Grandma Betty's "Old Fashioned" Barley, Tomato, and Vegetable Soup

When I was a teenager my mom, a competent and frequent canner, canned this soup every fall and used jars of it for quick meals. It was much better than something from a red and white can. Later I did the same, when I could get tomatoes in large quantities (the canning recipe calls for a bushel). On those harried days when our family arrived home with everyone really hungry, bottles of this soup saved my life. Both my mom and I usually added cooked ground beef but it isn't necessary if you want a meatless meal.

In the last decade or so the USDA and extension agents have determined that modern tomatoes do not have enough acid to make them safe for canning in a water bath canner like my mom used. She added copious amounts of sugar and vinegar in an attempt to help preservation but I'm told by my local extension canning authority that the only safe way to can this soup is with a pressure canner which I do not have. So when my brother Sam, who also remembers the soup fondly, asked me about it, I decided to reduce the old canning recipe (which yielded 17 quarts) and tweak it a little so we could enjoy the flavor of the soup without canning. 

Recently Sam and I cooked the soup together with some of the last of my summer tomatoes and we are happy to report it tastes just like our mom's home canned vegetable soup.  


Grandma Betty's "Old Fashioned" Barley, Tomato, and Vegetable Soup

Yields approximately 4 quarts

1/2 c pearl barley, soaked for 2 hours and cooked in water until al dente (don't over cook because it will cook  more later) 

1 T vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped or 2 cups 
5 medium cloves garlic, minced 
4 sticks of celery, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
4 carrots, diced
about 4 pounds fresh tomatoes chopped or  2 28-oz cans crushed or whole tomatoes (squish these a bit)
2 bay leaves
1 quart water
1 T sugar (I think this is why we all liked this, including children)
1 1/2 teas salt, to taste (ditto)
1/2 teas freshly ground black pepper
1/4 c chopped parsley
2 T  cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
1 pound ground beef cooked in a skillet while soup cooks, optional

Soak barley in the same saucepan in which you will cook it. Drain the soaking water and add more and cook until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat and cook the onions with a good pinch of salt until beginning to soften and become translucent. Add the garlic and cook for a minute. Add celery, carrots, and green pepper and cook while occasionally stirring until they soften somewhat. 

Add tomatoes (I used fresh but found a blender was faster than chopping), bay leaves, water, sugar, salt, black pepper. Bring to a strong simmer and turn heat down to a lower simmer and cook for about 45 minutes.  (I believe you can cook it for around 30 minutes if you use canned tomatoes.) Add the parsley, cooked barley, and the cooked ground beef and cook for 10-15 minutes more. Stir in the vinegar and serve. This is awfully good with grilled cheese sandwiches.


I think you could add other vegetables to this soup; green beans and corn come to mind. I wouldn't add summer squash until the last 15 minutes or so. 

I think you could reduce the amount of tomatoes to 3 pounds if you don't have four. You might want to increase the amount of water if you do. 

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