soup garden: growing vegetable soup ingredients

homemade vegetable soupI 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 small paste tomatoesWhat was most interesting: While, say, any yellow onion or type of garlic will do, certain varieties of vegetables proved particularly well adapted to soup-making, and I want to recommend them:

  • ‘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.

Aunt Ada's Italian pole bean

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.

  1. I love the way your mind works. In my kitchen, the soup ingredients are whatever I have on hand plus some rice, beans, or noodles to complete the picture. I have been known to freeze the water from cooking vegetables to add to the next batch of soup.

  2. Becky says:

    What a great way to plan what you’ll plant! I’ve seen some seed catalogs selling collections of plants for “The Salsa Garden” or “The Tomato Sauce Garden.” “The Vegetable Soup Garden” is a great one!

  3. Hannelore Passsonno says:

    Dear Margaret:
    May I suggest that you also grow “Lovage” in your soup garden. In Germany it is called “Maggi Kraut” as it smells and tastes like beef boullion, similar to the liquid Maggi Seasoning which is used in soups. It is a perennial and grows to about 2-3 feet. I use about 4-5 branches when I start the soup and later take them out or pulse them into the soup. In the fall, I freeze them in bundles of 5 by wrapping them tightly into plastic wrap and keep them in a baggie in the freezer to be used in soups during the winter.

  4. Nadia@Loveliveandgarden says:

    I may have to try that because I make a lot of soup. But generally speaking, I grow a salad garden and an ‘antique reproduction’ rose garden! :-) Although I’ve never quite called them that.. I may just start calling them by those names now though!

  5. Boodely says:

    Since you posted your vegetable soup recipe, I’ve made it at least a dozen times. It’s SO good, and SO simple.

    Over the winter I was a member of a CSA providing frozen local vegetables, and most of those veggies went straight into that soup. Thank you for the recipe!

  6. sallie says:

    Good morning Margaret! I want to eat that beautiful soup just from viewing your photo! Do you have the recipe on your website any where?

  7. Elizabeth F says:

    Lovage…I want to hear more about that. Someone mentioned it as a beef substitute on a blog somewhere and I asked for more info and was never responded. So is it more of an herb? Will I find it as a plant at the greenhouse? Or do I start it from seed? Grow it in pots?

  8. Elizabeth F says:

    I make vegetable soup when finds lots of odds and ends. I have been adding sweet potatoes in my old age now. I have never liked them but husband and children do so I feel obligated to cook them. I cut them in triangle shapes though so I can distinguish them from carrot half moons and don’t eat them by mistake. Growing up I hated mistaking a chunk of parsnip for potato in my mothers soup. Broccoli I just like the stems as I only like broccoli barely cooked, as in a stir fry.

  9. elizabeth says:

    Does celery not grow well in your garden? I started growing the Tango variety in my garden here in Montana a couple years ago and it grows very well, but must start early or buy starts. I like to put it in the food processor and make frozen celery cubes for Winter soups.

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