French Peasant Soup

French cooking wasn’t really popular until the 1960s in America when chefs like Julia Child and Richard Olney made it accessible to a broad audience. There had been attempts before then, but Americans largely rejected French cuisine as fussy and overly complicated. This recipe was something of an unexpected find in a Depression era cookbook, but it made more sense when I saw that it was written by the globe-trotting Brown siblings, who authored a number of international cookbooks. International travel for leisure was rare in the first half of the 1900s — it was prohibitively expensive for most people. (This would change with the advent of relatively inexpensive air travel post World War II). The Browns took advantage of their tour of Europe to learn all about European cuisine, and brought their knowledge home to share with an American audience. In Most for Your Money Cookbook, the Browns highlight the way European cooking minimizes waste as a money-saving strategy for Americans.

This was the first recipe for this blog that I plan on making again — it was also one of the cheapest. It uses a tiny bit of meat to flavor a ton of inexpensive vegetables for a filling but still flavorful soup. This budget-conscious cookbook has lots of recipes that use unpopular cuts of meat and organ meats and tips to stretch ingredients. In this case, the meat is salt pork. Salt pork isn’t prominent in the modern American diet (it was a typical part of Civil War rations), but it’s still readily available in supermarkets. It’s mostly fat with a few streaks of meat. It’s also, like the name suggests, extremely salty. Make sure you rinse it before cooking with it. The recipe calls for a tablespoon of any fat. Since the Browns emphasize no-waste cooking, I decided to render most of the fat from the salt pork into lard. Rendering fat is a very easy but time consuming process. Basically, you cook animal fat at very low heat for a long time and strain the results. Pig fat becomes lard or suet, beef fat becomes tallow, and chicken (or goose) fat becomes schmaltz. I’ll talk more about fat, grease, oils and the rise of shortening in another blog post.

While the fat was rendering, I prepped all my other ingredients. In French cooking, laying out and organizing your ingredients is called mise en place and it is, as they say, a game-changer. The second most important tip I have for prepping these ingredients is always wash leeks thoroughly! They get lots of dirt between the layers. Once everything was prepped, I browned the meat and started adding the first round of vegetables, water, and then a second round of vegetables. I’m assuming the recipe was written this way to keep some of the vegetables like the potatoes from getting too mushy from cooking for too long. The soup ended up delicious both the day of cooking and the next day. Like most of Great Depression recipes I’ve prepared, it would probably benefit from fresh herbs and more aggressive seasoning.


1 onion, chopped

1 leek, chopped

2 turnips, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

1/2 small cabbage, chopped

12 string beans, sliced

3 potatoes, sliced thin

1 tablespoon fat [I used lard]

1 slice salt pork, cubed

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 quarts water


  1. Wash and cut the vegetables
  2. Add fat, pork, onion, and leek to large pot or pan; cook on medium-low heat until onion is transparent (about 15 minutes)
  3. Add carrots, turnips, cabbage, and beans; stir occasionally (about another 15 minutes)
  4. Add boiling water, potatoes, and garlic; bring to a boil (medium-high heat)
  5. Simmer on low heat 4 hours

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