There is a delicious vegetable soup in this post. But first? Some stories. I don’t know why but I awoke full of them—mostly about my grandfather. Grandpa was a big believer in a vegetable diet, eating large quantities of carrots and beets, celery and onions, turnips and potatoes, green beans and cabbage, most of which he peeled and chopped while sitting on a little handmade wooden perch called his “stropping stool.”
Grandpa was a powerfully built man, who once worked finishing train cars for Pullman, and was an amateur boxer who went in for prizefighting at White City, an amusement park that used to stand at 63rd Street and South Park Avenue on Chicago’s South Side. At least he used to box, until some beer-drinking buddies dared him to show his strength by breaking a rope tied around his bicep. He broke that rope, but also busted his bicep.
By the time I came on the scene, Grandpa was kinda cranky, walked with a cane, and didn’t have much time for the girls in the grandkids bunch. But he loved pitting my boy cousins against one another in wrestling matches. And he did take us to the park, where he terrified us with tales of the Buhmann (bogeyman) who would grab us if we strayed out of his sight lines—a clever strategy to keep us from running off.
Grandpa started the vegetable regimen on the advice of one Dr. Brown, a vegetarian who promised that such a diet would cure all ailments, and had most of the relatives muttering, “quack.” But Grandpa lived a very long time, we grew to love those vegetables, and I still have his stropping stool, where I perched earlier today to peel the potatoes for this very simple, delicious soup.
I adore leeks, preferring them over onions for their delicate flavor, buttery texture and beautiful color in a soup. If you like, you can add some cooked barley or couscous for extra texture and calories, but I think this soup—just vegetable broth, butter-sauteed leeks, potatoes and lemon—is perfect on its own.