Joni Woolf: A soup to remember; grand piece of cornbread

Published 11:14 pm Friday, October 5, 2018

I’m always on the lookout for new, tasty recipes, and I am no longer surprised when I find them in the least likely places and circumstances. Last week, I spent several days in Maine, visiting my daughter Tracy’s sister-in-law, Mary McDonald. Mary’s family owns a wonderful cottage on a tiny strip of land called Capitol Island, since 1870, a vacation place on the southern Maine coast for s small group of families. To describe it as idyllic might seem extreme, unless you were there to experience the 60-degree days and cooler nights. And the bay in your front yard where lobster fishermen patrol. And, best of all, the great company of several bright, funny, entertaining women. It was delightful.
I had spent the day shuttling to Atlanta — flying to Portland, Maine — then traveling by automobile to the island, which is near Booth Bay Harbor, a picturesque coastal village. I had not eaten since breakfast, so the aroma of soup simmering on the stove drew me to the kitchen. There I saw, through the oven’s glass door, a pan of cornbread unlike any I have made. It was rising higher and higher, looking more like a cake than a pan of cornbread. And I took a quick peek at the soup, which appeared to have a tomato base, though at that point, I did not care. I was famished.
And wanted a piece of that cornbread.
The soup would be called a vegetable soup, though unlike many Southern vegetable soups, with their summer garden produce such as okra, butterbeans, and corn. The creator, a friend of Mary’s named Lee Lacy, didn’t say much about it. She just ladled it into six bowls and we sat down to enjoy soup and bread. (I know no other simple combination of food that brings so much pleasure and comfort.) The cornbread rose at least five inches high, was dense, crisp all around, and tasty. I had two pieces — with butter. The soup, though, was a mystery. There were flavors I did not quite recognize, but whatever the combination, I found it to be one of the best soups I’ve enjoyed, anywhere. I asked for the recipe, which Lee graciously wrote down for me. When I read it, I could scarcely believe some of the vegetables that were in the soup. I did not “see” them, or sense what I would have expected to be their texture and flavor. And if I had read a recipe for vegetable soup that included eggplant and squash, I would have turned the page. I would have been wrong. I recommend this one to you; in fact, I urge you to try it soon. Perhaps it was the combination of flavors, or that I was very hungry, or that the company was delightful, and a glass of wine helped me settle back and enjoy both the food and the great company. Whatever the magic may have been, I’ve seldom had so fine a meal. And now I recommend it you, dear reader, without any qualification.

Lee’s Party Soup
Salt, pepper to taste
¼ cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 medium eggplant, chopped (medium)
2 chicken breasts, chopped (medium)
2 zucchini, sliced
2 yellow squash, sliced
1 can black, pitted olives
1 32-oz. low-sodium chicken stock
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes
½ can Rotel tomatoes, or to taste
1 small can tomato paste
Parmesan cheese, for garnish
Heat olive oil in large soup pot and brown the onion. Then add in turn all other ingredients. Slowly cook on low heat for one hour. Add fresh thyme, bay leaf, Italian parsley to taste. Makes 5 quarts.

Golden Yellow Corn Bread
1 cup Indian Head Yellow Corn Meal (we may not find this here, so use whatever yellow meal you can find)
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
¼ cup oil
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In a bowl, combine corn meal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, combine milk and egg. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and stir just until well-blended. Meanwhile, heat all of the oil in the skillet in the oven. When the oven is ready, take the preheated oil and skillet out, pour the combined mix into the oil and return to the oven and bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. This last step guarantees a crispy cornbread.

This is a full meal, one that will warm you, body and soul. I guarantee it. It is especially good when shared with companionable friends and loved ones.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at