My Father’s Soup

Christmas this year saw fewer people around our table. Usually, Justin and I spend the holidays with my family in Ohio. 

Each year we are seated around the table with brothers and parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, eagerly awaiting a delicious dinner prepared by my maternal grandmother, Alice. On the menu, the Christmas ham. 

My grandmother, being a true Midwestern woman, always made more food than we could possibly eat in one night. And it was from these leftovers that my father’s ham and navy bean soup would spring. 

My father grew up in a large catholic family in the suburbs of Chicago. His mother, Rosemarie Claudia (Haskin) Schmidt, had 10 children, the youngest of whom was my father.  In a family of that size, nothing could be wasted, so it was not unusual for left over meat to remerge the next day, given new life in a warm bowl of soup.

Each year, after Christmas, my father would collect the ham bone and left over ham and make a stock by leaving the bone to simmer overnight with thyme, sage, and rosemary in an enormous soup pot. The following morning, he would remove the now clean bone and the herbs, adding carrots, celery, onions, garlic, navy beans, and the leftover ham which he had cubed back into the pot. 

This soup recipe some years produced so much soup that he would freeze it, so it could be heated and enjoyed several times throughout the winter, each steaming spoonful serving as a reminder of the holiday and the gathering of family.

This year, we could not safely make the trip to Ohio to see my parents and brothers. Like many across the country we opened gifts over zoom and wished one another a merry Christmas on the phone. Justin and I, hoping to hold on to some of the traditions that define this season for us, prepared our own ham for Christmas dinner. That night I called my dad, who chatted on the phone with me while I prepared the stock with a hambone of our very own. Despite it being the two of us for now, I made a large batch and froze a few portions. This winter on cold lonely days, I will warm up some of my father’s soup, prepared by my hands, and enjoy it knowing that time spent in the company of family will come again soon.

Jocelyn Schmidt