Appalachia Appalachian Food

The Time for Soup

The midwinter day rises chill with a bite that gnaws at the bones.

Inside the farmhouse, the countryman pulls on his heavy coat and stands a moment at the kitchen door.

The warm woodburning cookstove is inviting, the cane-bottomed rocker in the corner tempting, but the work that must be done outside will not wait.

“Might as well get started,” he says.

In the barn, where chores need doing, the cold creeps in. Out along the south side of the pasture, where the fence must be mended, a dampness sneaks under the heaviest coat. The sun, if any, has neither warmth nor light nor hope.

At noon, half frozen from the cold, the countryman turns homeward.

The blue smoke rising from the chimney is a flag that tells him that warmth and comfort are inside no matter what the reading of the thermometer. He hurries along the frozen path, his mind on the hot dinner waiting for him.

He comes into the kitchen and tries to stamp the cold out of his feet and rub the numbness from his hands.

“It’s raw out there,” he says. And his wife says, “I made a kettle of soup.” The countryman rubs his hands and grins.

“It’s a fine day for soup, he says. “Of course, I could eat soup every day of the winter. There’s nothing better on a cold day.” And that’s all there is for dinner, except a pone of hot cornbread. But who needs more?”

There’s nothing elegant about the meal. It’s eaten right there in the kitchen, close by the fire, right off the linoleum-topped table. Somehow, soup tastes better served in the kitchen than in the dining room off a linen-covered table.

And it doesn’t matter much what sort of soup, so long as it’s homemade. As excellent as canned soups may be, they can’t touch the homemade variety by a country mile.

Something is missing.

Maybe it’s the skill of the hand that occasionally stirs it on its slow fire. Or it could be the essence that creeps in from a kitchen where thousands of meals have been prepared without a word of complaint.

Perhaps it’s both.

—John Parris – “Soup Time in the Hills”

Whether it’s Granny’s tomato canned soup mixed with potatoes and onions or one of The Deer Hunter’s make it up as you go pots, soup with a pone of cornbread is one of our favorite winter time meals.


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  • Reply
    Jason Marshburn
    July 26, 2021 at 9:02 am

    My Mam-Maw made Hambone Soup, this way, with potatoes, onions, spaghetti, tomatoes, and okra.
    She was a life long resident of Sabine County, Texas. She also added okra to purple hull peas. And cooked the turnips (both tops and bottoms) together.

  • Reply
    Derek Gillespie
    January 12, 2021 at 4:01 pm

    I’m not sure if it has a name but we make a mess of soup come fall with all types of vegetables from the garden: tomatoes, onions, peppers, yellow squash, and anything else we can find. We’ll can it and save it for the coldest, darkest days of winter. Those vegetables are just as delicious as the day they were put in the pot to cook. Really does good for the soul too!

    • Reply
      June 3, 2021 at 2:26 am

      I make a wonderful veg soup. I saute celery, onions, cabbage, carrots in butter and add cooked ground beef. Do not drain the fat off the beef, add it to the soup. I add a bag of mixed frozen veggies, beef bouillon and spicy V8 juice along with a can of diced tomatoes, bay leaf, salt and pepper and it cooks up in a big stock pot and I freeze it in individual plastic containers and it makes the best vegetable soup ever. I make this every fall and we have it year round.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 11, 2021 at 6:29 pm

    I made a big pot of homemade soup last Friday…We had it all weekend…Sooo, good..Check out my Facebook page and you can see my Friday the first fare…for New Years Day and my Friday fare for last week…LOL
    Next up during the next cold spell is a slow cooker of Pinto Beans….lasts for a few days plus more Mexican cornbread or corn fritters…or as some call them fried cornbread or dodgers…LOL
    Did you get more snow this morning…we did…didn’t last this time…
    Loved your post today..

  • Reply
    January 6, 2021 at 1:39 pm

    Winter time is the best time for soup. This past week, I have fixed Potato soup and Cornbread and Vegetable Soup. It just smooths the body and soul.So comforting.

  • Reply
    January 5, 2021 at 8:13 pm

    Sunday, I started about a pound of smoked pork neck bones in the pressure cooker til the meat was falling off the bone tender… In parallel I had a pot with salted water and 2 cups of navy beans going… Monday morning, de-boned the neck bones….mixed bout third pound of meat with the beans and let’m simmer most of the day… Mixed up a batch of cornbread and dinner was on….! Have two containers worth as leftovers in the fridge… Today, did the same with abut two pounds of kielbasa from my son-in-law…sliced thinly, mixed in beef broth, smallish head of cabbage, and an onion. What another fine winter soup…and two more containers of leftovers ta’boot!! Sho’nuff is lip-smack’n good! Or as some folks say…so good…it makes you wanna smack your Mamma….

  • Reply
    Barbara Parker
    January 5, 2021 at 8:07 pm

    I sure do like soup and cornbread. I’m looking forward to making a big pot of soup hopefully tomorrow. I loved the story and it got me to wishing for a wood cookstove or even a wood burning heater. It’s that cozy memory making kind of story that makes me yearn for times long past and folks that still live on in my precious memories. For now I’ll just day dream a little and thank God for all the blessings He gives me in every Season of life. Life is a precious gift from Heaven. Enjoy!

  • Reply
    Gina Smith
    January 5, 2021 at 5:42 pm

    Eating scratch made potato soup as I read this.
    The wood stove is warming the room and soon I’ll have to go out to feed and clean the stalls.

  • Reply
    January 5, 2021 at 1:26 pm

    With a six quart crockpot we make at least one run each week during the Winter. Our garden provides most of the ingredients. We usually have crackers but occasionally I can get the cook to make a pan of cornbread.

  • Reply
    January 5, 2021 at 12:26 pm

    Great post. I thought I saw a slice of okra floating in that soup. thing to add. My family always loved soup, and I still make a variety all Winter. Since I have this underlying fear of becoming ill and unable to cook, I freeze a pack or two from each batch. I suppose I need to quit cooking and start heating up for lunch, as my small freezer is becoming jam packed with heat and eat meals. I have frozen gumbo, taco soup, vegetable soup, and spaghetti sauce. The next pot will be navy bean soup, and not certain how well that will freeze. Soup beans has to be fresh. Many people do eat cornbread with soup, but from childhood Mom always put crackers on the table. It was probably the one time she did not have to bake bread.

    I love John Parris writing, and I can only describe him as poetic when he describes plain everyday living. Again, Tipper, you never cease to amaze me how you are able to find so many everyday topics from Appalachia and make them so interesting. Once sure, but day after day after day??

  • Reply
    Gene Smith
    January 5, 2021 at 11:47 am

    One of the joys of a soup-and-cornbread supper on a winter evening is the aroma as the soup simmers and the cornbread bakes. Comfort food, indeed! The anticipation rivals the meal itself. God bless all good homemakers wherever they are.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    January 5, 2021 at 11:40 am

    I love homemade soup on a cold day, and you must have cornbread with it. As a child I learned to love okra by eating home made vegetable soup. Those delightful little balls (okra seeds) were my favorite part. We always canned loads of what we called soup mixture. I usually still do, but I haven’t had much luck with my tomatoes in the last few years. Nobody describes it better than John Parris.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    January 5, 2021 at 10:35 am

    This is definitely soup weather with a cold, damp fog blowing off Lake Erie. NE Ohio has some harsh weather. When my parents used to visit, pre-pandemic, their parting words are “I don’t know how you stand this weather.”

    All I know for sure is I need the wood stove in that story!

  • Reply
    January 5, 2021 at 10:31 am

    Nothing like a good pot of soup on a cold day! I like navy beans when it snows along with a pan of biscuits.

  • Reply
    Margie Goldstein
    January 5, 2021 at 9:17 am

    Homemade soup on a cold day warms the heart, soul, body and mind. I’m thinking about a pot of beef stew and will make it if I can stand on my leg with a blood clot in it. I’m definitely a soup lover. This writer refers to canned soup as excellent but my news experience teaches me the exact opposite. It’s bland, salty, icky, smells like dog food and if it’s not Progresso or the Chunky “ man” soups, leave it on the shelf in my opinion. Lol. Have a good day everybody and stay warm!

    • Reply
      Linda Collins
      January 5, 2021 at 5:49 pm

      We love home-made soup too. I want to pass along my saving and using up leftovers, for delicious vegetable/vegetable beef soup. After a meal, I save even the smallest amount of (any) leftover vegetables, put it in a container, and freeze. I keep adding all leftover vegetables and the seasoned broth to the same bowl until it’s full. When I’m ready to make the soup I have lots of delicious vegetables to add to the pot. I save strange things too like a little broccoli or water chestnuts.

  • Reply
    January 5, 2021 at 9:12 am

    The something missing in canned soup is just knowing most of the vegetables in homemade soup came from the cook’s garden. When I run out of my canned or frozen tomatoes and have to use store bought, it changes the taste of the soup dramatically. Bean soup is another favorite of mine. Cornbread is a must anytime I serve homemade soup.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    January 5, 2021 at 9:08 am

    Sometime in grade school I read the story of Nail Soup. It started with water and a nail. Then various folks filtered in, each with something to contribute, so that it turned out a unique, fresh soup that everybody loved. The nail was fished out and kept as starter for the next batch.

    I have a theory that if the word “chili” is spoken in a group on a cold, gray winter day over half will have chili for supper. At our house we speak of ‘chili days’ or ‘soup days’, such as, “Looks like this is a chili day.” These recurring cool with dense fog days lately have been chili days. Kinda like Mr. Parris indicates, it is the combination of cold and damp that makes you just hanker for rich and hot. Don’t forget the hot sauce!

    That’s one of the good things about wood or coal heating stoves. Can put a pot on in the morning and keep it on a low simmer all day, the original slow cooker.

    By the way, as a side note, my celery growing experiment is working OK. It won’t make anything looking like a store-bought bunch but I can cut off the outer, biggest leaves from time to time for single recipes. It seems unaffected by the cold. It’s nice to know another something that is true of, though I kinda doubt I’ll ever find the plants again.

  • Reply
    January 5, 2021 at 8:09 am

    There is nothing better than vegetable soup on a cold cloudy or rainy day and a pone of cornbread. I think another thing that makes homemade soup better is because home grown ingredients were used to make it.

    We also like to eat salmon stew on days like this. For some reason, I have lost my taste for oysters. I used to love oyster stew of fried oysters. I guess this could be considered soup too.

  • Reply
    Catherine Spence
    January 5, 2021 at 7:36 am

    You can’t beat a big bowl of soup with some homemade bread fresh from the oven.

  • Reply
    January 5, 2021 at 7:13 am

    I loved reading this! I totally agree. We call it “must-go” soup at our house, meaning everything in the refrigerator must go! I have made so many combinations through the years, each one of them unique, but so delicious with all the blends of flavors combined. I also make chili quite often, and we enjoy eating it so many different ways. So wonderful to visit with you this morning and envision the scene of the hard-working husband walking in to the warm kitchen and breathing in the aroma of freshly-made soup. God bless you today, my friend.

  • Reply
    Betty Jo Eason Benedict
    January 5, 2021 at 6:53 am

    Soup, my favorite meal….cornbread a real bonus! Any kind, everyday, 7 days a week!!! My Mom was the champ, I’m still working on it. When we made long trips home I would say, “I hope Mom is making Veg. Soup”……then to pull in the drive way and that heavenly aroma is filling the air……………!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 5, 2021 at 6:28 am

    I love homemade soup, Tip. In fact I eat a lot of soup now. I find it very comforting as well as delicious and nutritious. I make a pot and put it in the fridge and warm it up one meal at a time so it’s never overcooked.
    Homemade soup is soul food!

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney Jr
    January 5, 2021 at 6:27 am

    This story reminded me of the country song with the line, “I saw it on the radio” because this story was so vividly told that I saw it on the written page. Of course, I’m quiet sure that having experienced the same real life details of this story in my past helped “paint” the pictures as I read along.

  • Reply
    William Diamond
    January 5, 2021 at 6:20 am

    And it doesn’t matter much what sort of soup, so long as it’s homemade. As excellent as canned soups may be, they can’t touch the homemade variety by a country mile.

    Something is missing.

    Maybe it’s the skill of the hand that occasionally stirs it on its slow fire. Or it could be the essence that creeps in from a kitchen where thousands of meals have been prepared without a word of complaint.

    Perhaps it’s both.

    —John Parris – “Soup Time in the Hills”

    Add a little bit of love to that!

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