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Aunt Margie's WWII Altoona Vegetable Soup Recipe

Maren brings you rare or fun recipes and news of funky, out-of-the-way places to dine or buy treats. She is a teacher, mom, and foodie.

Aunt Margie and Gramma's Vegetable Soup

Aunt Margie and Gramma's Vegetable Soup

My Aunt Margie

First, you need to know how to pronounce her name. Our family used the hard "g," the way "g" is pronounced in the words: go, girl, and good. Other people christened Margaret might be nicknamed Mar-JEE by their families. That is fine. But our Aunt Margie is not one of those.

Margaret Morgan was the dutiful, bright first child of my hard-working grandparents. She had the extra advantage of incredible empathy and understanding. To know Aunt Margie was to love her. And she had unlimited supplies for loving you back.

Members of this generation faced so much: the Great Depression, World War II, rapid technology and climate changes, and the list goes on. Yet they stayed grounded through it all.

Members of this generation faced so much: the Great Depression, World War II, rapid technology and climate changes, and the list goes on. Yet they stayed grounded through it all.

The Era When Soup Was Made From Scratch

Aunt Margie recited this recipe from memory to me. She got it from my grandmother, who got it from her mother-in-law. This vegetable soup was a staple at Morgan family gatherings.

What a great way to connect to your ancestors by making a humble, wholesome soup from scratch. As you mix the ingredients yourself, perhaps you can imagine what it was like for your aunt or gramma standing at a porcelain sink counter or kitchen table, listening to the radio broadcast coming from the front parlor, and thinking about how to stretch your supplies to get the ultimate value from your hard-earned dollars.

This is my family's beef vegetable soup from the railroad town of Altoona, Pennsylvania. In the twentieth century, common sense and frugality ruled housewives responsible for feeding a family.

The recipe is nutritious, filling, and solidly "no frills."

Look how glowingly healthy and tasty these vegetables look. That cabbage in the back adds an incredible burst of flavor!

Look how glowingly healthy and tasty these vegetables look. That cabbage in the back adds an incredible burst of flavor!

The Prep Chopping Secret

Aunt Margie is living in Heaven nowadays, but she passed this recipe on to me by dictating it on one of our visits together. According to Aunt Margie, the secret to this soup's appeal is that all the meat and vegetables are the same small size.

Her guideline was to chop or slice every single ingredient to be like a three-quarter-inch-long green bean (also known as string bean).

In her opinion, this was the magic of the soup.

Therefore, any ingredient above which is described to be "chopped small" should be cut to this uniform half-inch green bean size.

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Although the listed ingredients are described as being chopped, you will be doing the chopping during the cooking except for the first ingredient—the beef.

Uniform-sized bites of green beans. There is a satisfaction in hand-chopping to make a family meal.

Uniform-sized bites of green beans. There is a satisfaction in hand-chopping to make a family meal.

Cook Time and Simultaneous Prep Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

15 min

1 hour 30 min

1 hour 45 min

8 generous servings

Minimal Prep

The only "prep" before the pot goes on the stove burner is:

  1. Collect all of the ingredients
  2. Chop the beef into cubes

After that, you do chopping while the soup is simmering. It is a Venn diagram of overlapping time used quite efficiently.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound beef, chopped in half-inch cubes
  • 2 cups plus 3 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups onions, chopped small (see "prep chopping secret" above)
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped into coins
  • 1 cup celery, chopped small
  • 1 large potato, chopped small
  • 1/2 green pepper, chopped small
  • 1 1/2 cups green beans, chopped small
  • 1/3 head cabbage, chopped finely
  • 1 (14-ounce) can corn, drained
  • 1 (14-ounce) can peas, drained
  • 1 (14- to 15-ounce) can northern or any small white beans, drained
  • 28 ounces plain tomato juice
  • salt, to taste
  • pepper, to taste
  • celery seed, to taste
For ingredients not in season, canned goods saved the day.

For ingredients not in season, canned goods saved the day.

Instructions

  1. Gather a huge stockpot or clambake pot with a lid. Also, collect all ingredients, measuring cups, and the knives you'll need. If you needed to substitute frozen or canned vegetables for some of the fresh ingredients, pay attention to what order you should add them to the soup. Fresh go first. Then the cabbage. Then frozen and canned ones.
  2. Pour 2 cups of water into the pot. Chop the beef and add it to the water. Bring it to a low boil and put the lid on to steam it for 15 minutes.
  3. While the meat is cooking, chop the raw fresh onions, carrots, celery, potato, and green pepper. As each is chopped, add it to the pot and stir to mix.
  4. Cook on a low simmer with the lid on until the carrot coins are "half done," as Aunt Margie said. This means that they are soft enough to cut with the side of a spoon with some pressure, but not soft and mushy.
  5. While that batch of ingredients in Step 4 is cooking, chop the green beans. When the carrots are sufficiently done, add the green beans and the remaining 3 cups of water to the pot and stir to mix. Put the lid back on.
  6. Chop the cabbage into small pieces. Dump the cabbage on top of all the simmering vegetables but do not stir in. Put the lid on to steam the cabbage as it sits on top. When the cabbage is slightly wilted, stir it into the soup.
  7. Add the canned corn, peas, and white beans. Also, add any other vegetables that were frozen or canned substitutes for fresh ones. Stir.
  8. Add the tomato juice and stir thoroughly. Cook the soup until the last three canned ingredients are heated.
  9. Serve. Each diner can add salt, pepper, and celery seed to taste. Eat with oyster crackers, saltines, or "butter bread" (this means bread spread with butter).
Several bowls of soup with crackers or "butter bread" could make a wonderful meal.

Several bowls of soup with crackers or "butter bread" could make a wonderful meal.

It Was (and Is) a Wonderful Life

If you are sentimental or have an archeological streak, try making foods from your childhood or from your ancestors' childhoods.

Cooking genealogy is the term I use for fondly remembering family members and events as you prepare "their" foods.

This particular soup with its cabbage is one I never encountered anywhere else except with the Morgans in the Pennsylvania railroad town of Altoona, PA. My cousins and I trekked Horseshoe Curve, made up plays to perform in Aunt Margie's back yard, gobbled wholesome food, and made memories for life!

Aunt Margie

Aunt Margie

© 2022 Maren Elizabeth Morgan

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