I DON’T THINK I HAVE EVER planted a theme garden—you know, a Children’s Garden, for instance, or White Garden or Shakespeare Garden, the kinds of demonstration plots you might see at a botanical institution. But the joy of a winterlong supply of homemade vegetable soup from my 2012 harvest changed that, and I suppose I have at least informally grown a Soup Garden each year since—all but one or two very specific varieties of the ingredients are sown, with thought of soup-making in mind.
A summer earlier, I’d learned how to make vegetable soup from my friend Irene, a longtime food writer. (My adaptation of her recipe.) The ingredients include garlic, onions, carrots, celery, kale or chard or collards, broccoli or cauliflower, summer squash, shell beans (such as chickpeas or cannellini), green beans, tomatoes, tomatoes, parsley and basil. As I gained my confidence with the basic recipe, I also made some batches with shelling peas or even snap peas, instead of a portion of the green beans—lending a slightly sweeter flavor. And some batches even included a little of each.
I don’t grow the celery, nor the chickpeas (nor water, olive oil, salt and pepper, of course), but everything else is under way once the garden gets going.
- ‘Juliet’ tomatoes (above) are smallish but flavorful, not-too-thick skinned, and heavy producers; my choice for sauce and soup. I never peel them.
- ‘Piracicaba’ broccoli provided many months of tender foliage, florets and even stems. A cut-and-come-again heirloom variety of excellent quality. I also add kale that I cut into a chiffonade, then crosscut, for extra green goodness.
- ‘Aunt Ada’s Italian’ heirloom pole bean (below) was unique, and gave a rich flavor to the soup. Unlike other green beans eaten fresh, you wait to pick this one until the seeds really plump up and show in the pods. The whole thing goes into soup–pods and all. I can’t imagine the soup without Aunt Ada.
- Shelling peas, such as ‘Lincoln’ or ‘Mayfair’ or some of these goodies. Some years I have used what my friends at Peace Seedlings call “puffer pod” peas, sort of a cross between a snap pea and snowpea, such as ‘Schweizer Riesen’ or ‘Green Beauty.’ I cut the pods in half or even thirds crosswise.
what if the ingredients don’t ripen at once?
SOMETIMES I HAVE fresh-picked broccoli but no peas, or green ingredients but no tomatoes. No worry, because I have a freezer. As certain soup ingredients come available out of synch with others, I stash freezer bags away (prepping the contents first if tops need nipping off beans or peas, for instance, or they need stringing). They won’t be in there long before a botanical harmonic convergence occurs and I have everything on hand for yet another batch of homemade soup. Add frozen ingredients as-is; don’t defrost first.