Using Mother's Recipe to Nourish Body and Spirit

A cook of modest means relies on faith in feeding the members of her church community not with loaves and fishes, but potato soup.

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- Posted on Sep 8, 2014

 serves members of her Friends meeting her mother's potato soup.

Sunday soup. I knew I couldn’t put off making it any longer. Every third Sunday at our Des Moines Valley Friends Meeting, we all eat together after worship. Two people bring enough soup for everyone, one that’s vegetarian and one with meat. But I had avoided signing up even though it was long past my turn.

I was a single mom of a teenager and my budget and energy often ran low. Lately, so had my trust in God, and I sometimes wondered why I bothered to attend church at all. Still, I wanted my daughter to be raised in a faith community and I was grateful for ours. So I finally signed up for soup duty.

All week I worried about what I should make. My mother, Edna, would have known. She raised much of our food on our family farm and had a knack for cooking and serving. I looked at her recipes for stews and chowders. This one seemed too complicated, that one required ingredients I couldn’t afford.

Then I came upon Mom’s handwritten directions for a simple scalloped potato soup. It had been a family favorite, and I could still picture her ladling the delicious steaming creamy soup into our gold ceramic bowls.

The recipe called for lots of potatoes, a bit of ham and cheese, celery, carrots, onions, milk and a little fresh parsley. Nothing too pricey.

I rummaged around in my kitchen. I found some leftover ham in the freezer and had plenty of potatoes in the pantry. I dug out my cast iron camp pot, the biggest pot I had. I hoped it would be enough. Our congregation was small and surely the other soup du jour would make up the difference if mine ran a little short.

Sunday morning I got up early. I diced the carrots, celery and onions, doubling the recipe. I peeled the potatoes and cut up the ham. I followed Mom’s steps and felt close to her, remembering her quiet faith. She was a busy working mom like me, but she found time to cook—and pray—for others.

I sautéed and simmered and poured in more milk to fill the pot. The soup grew thick and fragrant. I dipped a spoon in and had a taste. Mmm. Not quite my mother’s fare, but not bad.

Just before it was time to go, I put the soup pot into a box lined with paper bags and a towel to keep it warm, and loaded it into the car. It felt heavy and I thought, relieved, That should be enough.

But when I took it down to the church’s basement kitchen I wasn’t so sure. My pot looked small on the stove next to the large empty pot that people sometimes borrowed. The other soup arrived, the vegetarian one, and it looked slim too.

We two chefs glanced at each other, clearly thinking the same thing. “Maybe attendance will be low,” she said.

I nodded.

But it wasn’t. People kept arriving for worship. Usually I would be happy to see so many old friends and new faces. Today I could only imagine how mortified I would be if we ran out of soup. Please, God, I said silently, bless our efforts and let there be enough soup for the group gathered today.

Soon worship was over and announcements were made. Then people filtered downstairs. The line went down the counter and out into the hallway. I filled soup bowls sparingly, hoping everyone could at least have a little.

By the time the other chef and I had served everybody, people were lining up for seconds. “It’s sooo good,” they said, “the best potato soup we’ve ever had.” Several asked for the recipe. Some came back for thirds.

The vegetarian soup finally ran out, but amazingly there was still a little potato soup at the bottom of my camp pot so I ladled myself a bowl.

I sat down, astonished that we had been able to feed the multitude. My spirit felt lighter than it had in a long while. “Thank you, Lord,” I said.

I should have known I would be sustained even when my faith ran low. Especially then.

Try Ann Robinson's Scalloped Potato Soup recipe.

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