It was once again our family’s turn to work in the church soup kitchen.. Our turn came twice a year. Grandpa said it should have come around only once in two years cause our congregation numbered close to five hundred, and what with all the new babes expected it was soon to rise. He went on to say the church membership exceeded the number of people in our small community. I asked how this could be possible. Grandpa stuck his chest out like a proud peacock and said “Child, that there is cause folks drive for pert near thirty miles every Sunday morning to hear the fired up preaching of our young Pastor Jackson!”
For today, Simon, was the fired up one. A member of our church who considered himself to be “called of the Lord” as Head Chef of the Purdon Community Non-Denominational Church. Simon didn’t talk, he yelled. I noticed my head had taken on a heart beat because it throbbed to the beat of every word that proceeded out of Simon’s mouth. You see, Simon was injured in a hunting accident a few years back (ever since I could remember) and he was totally deaf. Grandma had instructed me that upon arrival at the church kitchen I was to look straight at Simon, shake my head in agreement while smiling constantly so Simon would know that I was listening to orders and would carry them out correctly.
Simon’s speech was perfect because his accident happened to him after he was already grown up and had formed his speech pattern. That was what Grandma said. The only thing was, Simon had a base baritone voice. This was mighty revered by our church choir director. However, Simon yelled in the same tone when he spoke to you. This here scared off a lot of folks from volunteering in the soup kitchen. Grandpa said that this was just a covenant excuse for lazy folk. Grandma said I can’t discuss this. So, I won’t.
I was especially amazed at Simon’s talent. He could tell what a person was saying from across the room, or, down the block. He didn’t need ears as long as he could see their lips moving. Our neighbor, Ginny, had come along to help. I wondered how he kept from becoming hypnotized by staring at her lips for such long periods of time as they never seemed to pause in their movement. As for me, my cheeks were beginning to ache from the permanent grin fixed on my face when ever Simon did look in my direction. Not to mention my neck and head was feeling like the neck and head of one of them there dogs you see in the back window of some folk’s car going down the freeway just a bobbing up and down.
I thought about how Simon must be viewing this entire situation. Six people who came to volunteer, namely, Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt Nelly, Aunt Nita, Ginny, and myself, tripping over each other, bobbing their heads up and down, grinning like they had something to hide, and standing at attention like tin soldiers. I wondered if he might think they picked us up off the street holding one of them there signs “Will work for food.” He must be thanking the good Lord that we at least knew how to peel potatoes, chop onions, and slice carrots.
Simon adjusted just fine, even with all of us stepping over each other, not knowing where utensils, or, pot’s and pan’s were located, besides feeling totally lost in this kitchen. I decided he was right about one thing. A person had to be called of the Lord to do this job. Simon’s Simple Stew was a huge hit. There wasn’t even one teaspoon leftover. It taste far from simple and still remains one of my all time favorites. Give it a try, you’ll have a new favorite too!
Simon’s Simple Stew
1 cup butter
4 cups onions (peeled, washed, and diced)
½ cup Paprika
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon cumin
4 cups beef broth (may used canned)
2 cups V-8 tomato vegetable juice
3 cloves garlic (minced)
3 bay leaves
4 lbs stew meat (washed, drained, and cubed)
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup flour
6 large Irish potatoes (peeled, washed, and cubed)
4 large carrots (peeled, washed, and cut into rounds)
3 stalks celery (wash, take off strings and chop thinly)
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup frozen peas
IF YOU ARE COOKIN FOR ONLY TWO THIS RECEIPE IS EASILY ADJUSTED. REMEMBER THIS AMOUNT IS FOR A CROWD.
Melt butter in a large Dutch oven; add onion and cook until onions caramelize. Stir in paprika, tomato paste, sea salt, and cumin. Mix well. Add beef broth, V-8 juice, garlic, and bay leaves. Turn heat to med, place lid on top and let cook. Meanwhile, in a large heavy skillet add ½ cup oil put on low heat setting. Place stew meat on a cutting board or a cookie sheet and coat with the ½ cup of flour on all sides. Place the meat in the preheated skillet and brown on all sides (about 5 minutes). Use a ladle to get some of the broth from the Dutch oven to deglaze the skillet and stir the stew meat well. Add the stew meat and all the pan drippings to the Dutch oven very carefully so as not to burn yourself. Add the potatoes, carrots, celery, corn, and peas. Let the stew cook for 20 minutes, stir occasionally. When the vegetables are tender the stew is done.
Warning: The aroma from this hearty stew will draw a crowd to your kitchen before the stew is actually done!
Editor’s Note: From a collection “Tastebud Tidbits” by Joyce M. Edwards
A southern native residing in Idaho. I write about experiences as a child growing up in southern kitchens were babies were named, weddings were planned, and politicians were elected or rejected.