October is probably my favorite month of the year. I love the red and gold in the leaves, the crisp evening air, putting pumpkins on the front porch and I love Halloween. I also love a simple, hot bowl of soup for dinner. October is also special to me because yesterday, Oct. 2, would have been my Grandma Logan’s birthday; today, Oct. 3, my Grandpa Logan’s birthday. Yep, just one day apart. To note, this must be some kind of family legacy as my husband Jaz and I have birthdays that are one day apart. Go figure.
While I lost my grandparents many years ago, my memories of them are warm and strong. They were good Southern folk, both born and raised in the hills of Arkansas and both grew up quite poor. They relocated to the Northwest during the great ‘timber migration’ of the 40’s.
Those Southern Roots
I was, indeed, raised with a certain sense of southern hospitality that my grandparents embodied. Florence and John Logan never met a stranger and their tiny two-bedroom bungalow was always filled with family, friends and neighbors.
My grandpa was a good ‘ole Southern Irishman who would sit on his front porch (about the size of a postage stamp) and people from around the neighborhood would come and visit him for a good story and a lift to their day. He would give you his last nickel. He would give you a nickname. He would always make you laugh.
My grandma loved being in the kitchen. I used to think her kitchen was huge, but by today’s standards, there was barely enough room to breathe. But somehow there was always room for one more person around her tiny kitchen table.
Because of my grandma:
- I was 25 years old before I had ever heard of the pastry called a “turnover”. In the South, it’s a “Fried Pie.”
- I know what people mean when they say, “Well, I Swan….”. Translation: “What you’re telling me borders on the incredulous.”
- I know what the phrase “Well, she don’t know sickum” means. Translation: “It has come to my attention that this woman may not be that intelligent.”
- After a meal, I know what the phrase “Lord, I thought I’d I nearly foundered” means. Translation: “That was quite delicious and I found that a most satisfying meal.”
- On a Saturday afternoon, it was common to be found “wallerin’”. Translation: “to be found on a couch in a state of complete non-productivity.”
- I know what it means to be “fixin’” to do something. Translation: “the mysterious time in space between thinking about doing something and actually doing it.”
- And, although she was not one to swear often, I grew up thinking the “sh-“ word had 27 letter i’s in it before succinctly landing on the letter “t”. Ahem.
My strongest memories of my grandma and grandpa Logan center on Saturday morning breakfasts. My grandpa would get on the phone early Saturday morning to all of his grown children and say “we’re getting the biscuits in the oven; get on down here for breakfast at 7:00.”
Breakfast would consist of bacon, sausage patties, fried ham, fried eggs (in bacon grease), buttermilk biscuits, sausage gravy, toast, all manner of homemade jams and fried red potatoes (in bacon grease). Always red potatoes. Just a whiff of well-made sausage country gravy can still transport me back to childhood.
Their home was a small 2-bedroom cottage, yet it always seemed to have plenty of room for their 4 grown children and their spouses, upwards of a half-dozen grandchildren or more, and frequently one or more neighbor families. There call was for everyone grab a plate, fill it up, squeeze a place around the kitchen or coffee table, or just find a place on the floor. Just find a place. They never worried about anything being spilt, anything being ruined. Everyone was welcome. And the food reigned supreme.
My grandpa was also famous for his beef stew. Most beef stew recipes I see have a beef-stock base, but not his. Probably when you grow up Southern you always have a garden and you always grow tomatoes. So, maybe that’s why his stew has a tomato base. Anyway, it is my favorite soup/stew to make and I have enjoyed sharing it with my family, friends and now with my neighbors.
While I’ve made a few modern tweaks to the recipe (I don’t need to use a pressure cooker for the beef and my tomatoes are not home-canned from one’s grown in my garden), the basic recipe has remained the same for decades. Just 5 easy ingredients and enough to make a “mess of it” because when he made it, he always made enough to share.
I give you Grandpa Logan’s Stew. You won’t find a better weekend meal on a chilly autumn evening.
- 2-3 lbs. beef stew meat (I buy either a double pack or two packs of pre-cut stew meat, whatever amount that turns out to be)
- 2 cans crushed tomatoes
- 1 5 lb. bag of red potatoes (no subs)
- 1 3 lb. bag carrots
- 2 onions (Vidalia or Walla Walla Sweets if you can find them)
- Salt & pepper
- All-purpose flour for dredging
- Vegetable oil for browning meat
- Pinch of sugar (it ain’t Southern if it doesn’t have a pinch of sugar!)
Step 1: The Meat
Remove the stew meat from the packaging, rinse thoroughly, and pat dry. Generously salt and pepper on one side. Place the meat salt and pepper side down in the flour; salt and pepper again, then lightly coat/dredge in the flour.
Heat 2 tbs. of vegetable oil in a deep sided frying pan. In small batches, brown the meat 1-2 minutes per side, then remove to a large 10qt. or larger stockpot. I usually add another tablespoon of oil for each batch. When all of the meat is browned and in the stockpot, slice up two onions and place them over the meat. Fill the stockpot with water enough to just cover the meat and onions, about 6 cups. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cover. Simmer for 90 minutes.
Step 2: The Vegetables
Peel the red potatoes (entire bag) and cut them into about 1-1/2 inch bites. Set aside in large bowl.
Peel the carrots (entire bag) and cut them into about 1-inch bites. Put them on top of the potatoes, cover with plastic wrap and set aside until the meat is done.
Step 3: Fixin’
Once the stew meat is done, add both cans of crushed tomatoes into the stockpot and add the carrots. Bring back to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add potatoes, 1-1/2 tbsp. salt, ½ tbsp. pepper and simmer for another 30 minutes until veggies are cooked through. (You can always add additional salt and pepper to your preferred taste.)
Finally, add 1-1/2 tbsp. sugar. Why sugar? Every Southerner knows that sugar is the secret ingredient to all great dishes, especially anything with tomatoes. It cuts (smooths) the acidity and just generally makes it sa gooood ya just cain’t stand it!
Now, c’mon now and get a getting’ and serve it up ‘fore it gets cold!