Cabbage Soup From the Past
What is cabbage soup from the past? That may be the question on the minds of some. Others know exactly what it is. Here is the answer for those who do not.
Tucked away in the Appalachian Mountains, in the Kanawha Valley, in the state of West Virginia, is the small rural community of Saint Albans. It is the town that my family and I moved to in 1967 when I was a mere five years old, and the town that I grew up in and lived in until I moved away, to a nearby community in 2002. Saint Albans is a little town of about 11,000 people, located on the banks of the Kanawha River and situated at the mouth of the Coal River.
In many ways, in the 1960s and 1970s, it was the picture of typical small-town America. There was a main street with a five and dime store, a department store, a local small-town bank, and a barbershop, along with a few other stores along its path. There were hometown parades and summer town fairs that we all, young and old alike, looked forward to every year. There was Friday night football under the lights, in an age where school pride and loyalty still existed. There was that feeling of safety of being a small town where everyone looked after each other, and where it was safe to walk down the street at night, or ride your bicycle home in the dark after staying just a little too long at your friend's house. There was little to no crime to be reported, and drugs were only seen on television shows of the day such as Dragnet or Hawaii Five-O. It was a simple time in a simple place. One I only wish I could now recreate for my own children. A lot has changed over the years.
Historically, the land was once surveyed and owned by George Washington. The town itself, however, was laid out in 1816 and was originally known as Phillippi after one of its early settlers. There were a few name changes along the way before finally, in 1872, being renamed by H.C. Parsons of the C & O Railroad, which ran through the center of the town, after his birthplace in Saint Albans Vermont.
Moving forward 114 years from the 1872 renaming of the small town described above, I can now answer the original question. What is cabbage soup from the past?
In the small town of St. Albans was a family-owned restaurant that opened its doors in 1986 in the heart of town. I have been asked not to mention the name of the restaurant, so out of respect, I have taken the name out. Sadly they had to close their doors nearly 10 years ago due to the changing economic and demographic landscape.
I had the pleasure of working for this restaurant, and the family that owned it, in different capacities, both as a chef and in management, from its inception in 1986 until life's circumstances led me to leave to pursue other interests and opportunity's in 1996. I still have many fond memories of the people, and lots of life lessons from the events from those days in that little place in that small little town.
I also still have many recipes that were used in the successful building of the business. Some are ones that I created myself along the way. Some, like this soup, were created by others, but ones that, after ten years of producing or supervising the production of, have stuck in my mind like glue. Some I have shared with others along the way. Some I have kept to myself. That finally brings me to the main topic of this article: cabbage soup.
The restaurant I am speaking about was well known for many things. Mouth watering, aged, hand cut steaks, shredded lettuce salad with their signature house dressing, delectable desserts, and warm sweet hush puppy's served with whipped honey butter. But perhaps the thing that they are most talked about for, even years after their closing, is the cabbage soup that was served up to every guest. Yes. Every guest, upon being seated, was greeted with a basket of the sweet hush puppy's and honey butter and a steaming 8 ounce cup of their homemade cabbage soup.
It is the latter that has been the source of hundreds of requests over the years and is the subject of the recipe that I will share in this article. As stated, I have had, literally, hundreds of requests over the years for the recipe for this soup. While I have been more than willing to share it with folks, and it is really quite simple, there was one small problem. The recipe I have had for all these years has been for an 80 quart batch. That doesn't do the average consumer much good when trying to prepare this for home. At this restaurant we would go through anywhere from two to four of these 80 quart pots of soup EVERY DAY. So I have taken part in or seen thousands of gallons of this particular cabbage soup prepared over ten years. Again though, that did not help the individual who wanted to make a pot of this memorable soup for home. Therefore, I would usually just approach the requests with a simple, "I can tell you how to make it but you will have to make 80 quarts at a time." I would then always get requests to break down the recipe for them. I would always promise that I would some day, but have just never got around to it... until now.
For some reason, of late, I have had a recent renewed barrage of requests for the recipe. I have even seen a few posts on social media and even a newspaper article in our local paper, trying to re-create this long sought after recipe. I have seen people come up with some strange ingredients that they were sure was in the soup. While each of the many attempts to re-create was good in its own right, they just were not correct, at least when described as the soup from this particular restaurant. So I decided that it was finally time to make the effort and break down the recipe for a small home-sized batch and share it with others.
The funny thing about all of this "hoopla" over the recipe, is that when people see the small number of ingredients actually used, and how very simple it is to make, they will wonder what all the fuss was about and why they worked so hard to figure out something so simple.
So without further delay, I give you... cabbage soup from the past!
Cabbage Soup Recipe
Yield: 6 quarts
- 1/2 medium-sized cabbage (or enough to fill about 1/3 of the pot with chopped cabbage)
- 5-6 stalks celery (enough to cover the top of the cabbage)
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 8 ounces tomato juice
- 1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
- A few sprinkles crushed red pepper
- Rinse and chop the cabbage into about 1-inch squares and place in the bottom of a six-quart stockpot.
- Clean and chop the celery into about 1/4 inch slices. Put into stockpot on top of the cabbage.
- Fill the stock pot up with water to about 3/4 full.
- Place pot on burner and bring to a boil. Reduce heat just enough to keep from boiling over and cook until the cabbage and celery are tender but still firm (approximately 30 minutes).
- Remove from heat and add the remaining ingredients (crushed tomatoes, tomato juice, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper).
Note: You may adjust the salt pepper and crushed red pepper to suit your taste. Some people like it a little spicier some like it a little saltier. Experiment a little at a time.
Stir and serve. It's really that simple.
This recipe can also be used as a base for a more hearty vegetable soup. Just add your choice of vegetables. You can even beef it up and make a vegetable beef by adding cooked stew beef to the mix.
As with many things, taste is subjective. Feel free to modify in any way that best suits your taste. However, for those trying to recreate the recipe for this long gone restaurant, this recipe is for you.