Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Soup Bones

While most of the people in my area are mourning the passing of summer, I am reveling10102012_ENT_FallPhotos_DJB_1130_display that it’s finally over. There is something about this time of year that delights me more than I can imagine. It bugs the heck out of my co-workers when I come in the office expressing how much I enjoy the cold weather and can’t wait until the temperatures and snow begin to fall. Quite honestly, they think I’m nuts!

Today was a perfect example of what I mean. The temperatures hovered in the high 40’s and low 50’s. It drizzled, showered or teemed rain throughout most of the day. Everyone was miserable, whiney and complaining about the weather….. except me. I was loving it.

When I was a boy, whenever it turned chilly, rainy and gloomy like today, my mom would be hard at work preparing a belly-warming pot of soup. Good ol’ hunky beef noodle soup usually. The process took the better part of the day. She would begin after my brother and I went off to Holy Name School in the morning, and carefully and lovingly pare and chop the carrots, celery and parsley into the perfect bite size pieces. A large chuck of beef would be prepared by washing it down in the kitchen sink and then patting it dry so she could lightly brown it in her cast iron skillet. I never understood this step, but it always tasted so good, who cared.

beef-marrow-bonesThe Hrvatski Domaća Goveđa Juha (Croatian Homemade Beef Soup) that my mom made, along with every hunky I knew, had an ingredient that I never understood. Mom always said it was her “secret ingredient.” I’m referring to the “soup bone.” I recall grocery shopping with Mom at Kennedy Meat Market (a.k.a. Andy’s) and her asking for a soup bone at the meat counter. It seemed to be as key an ingredient as the beef itself.

Mom would place all of the chopped ingredients, the whole chunk of beef, a couple of peeled onions cut in half, the soup bone, a few spices and water into her soup pot and place it on the stove on a medium flame. She once told me that it was best to bring the picacCv5qwater to a boil very slowly in order to get the best flavor. Eventually, the water would come to a boil and then she would lower the flame and let the soup cook for hours.

At this time of the year, the temperature was in 40’s outside, leaves were falling and there was a definite autumn-like smell in the air. By the time I got home from school, I knew that we were having beef soup for supper. My dad had installed an exhaust fan in the kitchen that was capable of sucking the air out of an entire factory. The aroma of anything that Mom was cooking would be drawn out of the kitchen and blasted out into the chilly fall air. As I walked up the driveway toward the kitchen door, I would immediately be hit with the aroma of the soup as it seem to be suspended in the air between our house and Anna Yasko’s house next door.

When I passed our kitchen window and then stepped up to the kitchen door, the panes of glass would be dripping with condensation as the warmth of the kitchen air battled with the nippy outside temperature. Mom would always be in the kitchen, either stirring her kettle of soup or sitting at the kitchen table waiting for us with coffee cup in hand.

We arrived home after school about 2 hours before my dad got home from work. Mom would always tell us to do our homework when we first got home…. No rest for the wicked. Fortunately, this never took too long for me since I wasn’t quite as focused as a student as my brother was. I always believed that he was the intelligent one, while I was the creative one. However, both Steve and I would eventually make our way outside before dinner and before dark.

LeavesThe time between getting home from school and being called in for dinner seemed to go by so quickly. We barely had enough time to rake leaves together for a large enough pile before Mom was yelling for us to come inside and wash our hands. Somehow, every time we went outside to play in the fall, we’d always manage to have muddy hands and soggy, grubby stains on the knees of our pants.

 By the time we had cleaned-up after playing outside, Dad was usually home and going through his own clean-up routine at the stationary tubs in the basement. Since he worked at his garage all day, he was usually pretty grimy, looking like he had been pulled from a Gulf Coast oil spill. I can still smell the fragrance of Lava soap as he prepared for dinner each evening.

 While Dad was busy in the basement and Steve and I passed the time before dinner by bowl-beef-soupwatching TV in the living room, Mm would be busily boiling the noodles for dinner in her yellow kettle. She always used Pennsylvania Dutch brand noodles that were ultra-thin and were the perfect size in my opinion. She would have peeled, and quartered potatoes and have added them to the soup about 30 minutes before dinner so that when suppertime rolled around, she was 100% set.

 Our hunky soup dinner would always start with at least one or two bowls of the fabulousSoup beef soup. I even loved the carrots! Spoons would clanks against the side of the bowls as we ate and we were always allowed to lift our bowls and slurp to our heart’s content. Polite society be damned…… hunkys knew how to enjoy soup!!

After we had finished our bowl or bowls of soup, Mom would clear away our bowls leaving the dinner plates below. She would bring our large blue platter to the table that was loaded with the soup meat, potatoes and carrots that had been fished out of the soup kettle. I think that was my favorite part. I remember getting a hunk of beef and shredding the heck out of it. Since it had been cooking for hours, there really wasn’t a ton a flavor left in it, but smear some ketchup on it and a bit of salt and it was divine. Mom and Dad preferred to mix some horseradish into the shredded meat on their plates, but I didn’t have the stomach for that. The potatoes were placed on our plates, and we’d crush them with our forks, add a few pats of butter, salt and pepper and dig in. This was really “stick to your ribs” foods hunky style. Mom would have usually picked up a loaf of bread from Bon Bon Bakery in the Kroger Shopping Center across the street, have them slice it in their slicing machine. And allow us a few pieces with our meal.

These memories were provoked today by the weather report I saw online for Duquesne.Clouds over thye city There was an ever so slight chance of snow. I was so jealous when I saw it, and then began thinking of cold fall days in Duquesne. I miss the excitement of knowing there was a possibility of snow this early in the fall. I checked out one of the weather cameras from the Duquesne area and saw the familiar snow clouds looming over West Mifflin High School. I remember getting so excited when my dad would point to that type of cloud and tell me that whenever I saw them, it meant snow was on its way. Come on winter…bring it on!


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26 Responses to Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Soup Bones

  1. Erika says:

    Wow. My heritage is partly Hungarian and my family always loved Hunky Soup growing up. No one I know has ever heard of it, but your description got it right on the nose. The beef block, eating the soup and veggies/meat separately. Some of my best memories from childhood. I try to replicate it now as an adult; but, alas, I lost my recipe. Bummer. Happy holidays!

  2. Liz (Heaps) Shiner says:

    I would be happy with not seeing snow, the cold bothers me so much now. But it’s never out of the question to put a pot of soup on the stove. My husband loves when I get it started. You’re right thought, it’s time for soup, the way our Moms always made it. My Mom had many friends in Duquesne of all ethnicities, so we would have Polish, Slovak, Italian…the list went on and on. So that was how I learned to cook. Now my daughters and son still make all of the food I grew up with. Thanks for the memories and for stirring up my bellies grumbling. Got to go make soup…!

  3. Brooke Balta Speakman says:

    I love reading your posts! My parents grew up in Duquesne, my grandfathers (and, when he was young, my dad) worked in the mill, and my Babas made the most delicious Slovak foods. Your description of the beef soup brings back so many memories because we had it practically every Sunday when I was growing up! My grandma lived with us, and she would make her own homemade noodles…the skill with which she could roll out the dough was amazing, and she would slice them incredibly thin…by hand…cutting quickly with a knife and setting them to dry on her massive wooden cutting board.
    I told my mom and dad about your blog, and they’ve spent HOURS pouring over your posts…thank you very much for sharing your memories. It means a lot to someone from a younger generation, like me, who wants to hear all the stories of my parents and their parents’ heritage!

    • Pam says:

      This is crazy! 2018 and I find this page and post. I lived with my Grandparents in Duquesne on Homestead Duquesne Rd. Grandma always made her noodles….yep those skinny ones and I agree also remembering that big knife and the noodles drying on the table. Gosh what awesome memories ! I think Hunky soup is my all time favorite! I can even remember my mom telling me she asked Grandma (her mother-in law actually) why her cabbage rolls didn’t taste as good as Grandma’s and Grandma asked her, Are you cooking you onions in lard? Mom went on to make cabbage rolls for graduations, weddings by the big roasters full.

  4. Dave Forgash says:

    To: Ken Denne,
    Mike Moran had a great spread outside Mt Pleasant including the swimming pool. As you know lots of movers and shakers in Duquesne went to Moran’s along with some regulars who frequented Moran’ Bar at the top of Grant Ave.
    My mother grew up with Mike’ wife
    who we affectionately referred to as Aunt Clara and my mother sure enjoyed the get away with friends like you and others at Moran’s in the MTS.
    Mike was good to me always providing some work like painting one of his apartments or cleaning the bar.
    Thanks for shareing the memories.

    • Ken Denne says:

      Thanks, Dave, for the note…Hope you are doing well.. Your brother, Walt???How is he doing///

      • Dave Forgash says:

        Most succinct kindest answer, Walt is MIA living somewhere in Pittsburgh. No drugs or alcohol,
        just issues.
        He has three adult children who made it on ther own and are living happy successful productive lives.
        My wife and I are well and retired in Bradenton. I viewed success as a destination and with many mentors, being in the right place at the right time and a little luck I have done OK for a Hunky from Duquesne.
        Dennis also has had great run still working and living in Maryland.
        Uncle Ed is 86, living in Monroeville, last of the (9) Sudzina’s. As you would expect he has some health issues but still had a sound mind and I enjoy talking to him and listening to stories about our old home town and the people who made Duquesne what it was and what it has become.
        Thanks for asking and I hope you and yours are well.

  5. Mike Ferchak says:

    During World War II my dad was a cook in a US Army hospital in the Fiji Islands in the South Pacific. He was proud that his culinary skills could please the doctors from prestigious Johns Hopkins. In the 1950’s and 60’s he would make beef soup for our family as you described, with a platter of shredded beef, onions, potatoes, carrots. For us, it was a Saturday event, hours of comforting aromatic simmering fogging the kitchen windows on cold grey afternoons.

  6. Lolly says:

    I am envious, Jimmy! I am so tired of the endless summer in FL.
    Hope Steve and I can retire up north someday.
    I want my seasons back!

  7. Karen Miller says:

    Thanks for brining back some great memories! I think I’ll make soup this weekend!

  8. Donn Nemchick says:

    Having grown up in McKeesport’s Tenth Ward – my grandmother would send me to Zoscak’s Market to get a soup bone.. “Zoo” the butcher would wrap it in that white paper, tape it up and send me on my way .. I don’t think there was a charge for the bones. We always had a chunk of rye bread with butter to accompany the soup. One of my favorite things is to smell the dried Autumn leaves burning. My mind goes right back to 1958 or so and I can see my grandmother, my dad and the other kids in the neighborhood … we would jump into the pile of leaves and my dad would rake them back up and tell us to dive in again! We were not worried about getting dirty, hurt or contracting some deadly disease…and we were so much better off because we were outside playing instead of sitting in front of a screen watching a video game!

  9. Abbie Manns says:

    The soup bone adds flavor. When the butcher cuts the meat he just throws it on the scales and charges you for the weight. In the good old days they didn’t put a clean piece of paper on the scale for each weigh, so when your Mom got it home she cleaned off any sawn bone and crap that may have been picked up from the scale. Once in a while the butcher would scrape the meat to clean it.

  10. Eileen Tokar Lilley says:

    My Dad didn’t do much cooking, but the day after Mom made the beef soup, he would put the small pieces of beef and any carrots and small pieces of potatoes in a skillet w butter or margarine and then put in beaten eggs and scramble that all together. Nothing else like it!! We also would put leftover mashed potatoes in our homemade chicken soup after it was in the individual soup bowls. You didn’t mix it up, just used the spoon to take a little of the mashed potatoes in the center with the soup. Kept us warm and satisfied like no other soup.

  11. Colleen Byrne Travis says:

    I also remember going to Bon Bon bakery for their good potato bread. But, remember Alexander’s in Duquesne? Feigs had a bakery inside Alesxanders. There was a big bread slicer in that store, too. When my mother made soup, she always made home made dinner rolls. I do the same to this day. When my children were growing up, they never had canned soup at home.

    • Dave Forgash says:

      My mother Betty (Sudzina) Forgash
      managed the Feigs in Alexander’s
      for many years. Seems like every other person walking by would tap on the window or wave to Betty.
      The customers were full of the latest
      gossip and if the gossip was personal
      they would converse in Slavish. Feig’s
      had some great baked goods and I sampled so many that as an adult I never touch the stuff. But a good loaf of sliced fresh bread with beef soup is still mighty tasty.
      When Alexander’s closed she took over the Feig’s store in Homestead.
      One of my many part time high school jobs was stocking shelves and unloading trailers at Alexander’s.
      Dave Forgash

  12. Jack Schalk says:

    At exactly 6:04 PM this last Tuesday here in Indiana the snow started to fall in those large, white, sloppy flakes and it brought back memories of Fall in Duquesne.
    I have 40 large trees in the yard of varying species and I find it a lot more difficult sweeping these up as opposed to the large Sycamores that we had on Kennedy Ave..
    Nothing was as much fun as piling those dead leaves then jumping into them and scattering them all over again. Of course they had collected their share of soot from the mill so that when you were finished you were dirty from the effort and only a bath would get you sufficiently clean.
    We all have our favorite temps and seasons but I’ll take pre snow, early October any time.

  13. Frank Mullen says:

    “Soggy, grubby stains on the knees…” got right to me! As I read your musing, I could instantly feel that sensational memory. Often, my play-pants, moved down the line from having been “Church Pants,” then, to “School Pants,” and finally consigned to playwear, were corduroy (not jeans/Levis.) Incidentally, this “down-the-line” system was assigned to shoes (hard, leather shoes, some black [the best and most frequently polished were for Mass, of course]; some brown, never sneakers,) too, with the privately embarrassing, occasional, cardboard stuffed into them to cover holes that had gotten worn into the soles. Those cardboard “patches” didn’t seem to work too well in the winter snows of good ol’Duquesne, however.

    It’s remarkable, isn’t it, Jim, and everybody else reading here, how the small memories and moments from childhood become hugely precious treasures for us to cherish and re-explore, nowadays.

    • Jim says:

      You are SO right Frank. Remember how exciting it was when you had to wear your play jacket from last year for the first time in the fall and you discovered a special treasure that you had stuffed into the pocket the previous year? Better yet, was discovering a treasure in the pocket that was your brother’s the year before! Score!!!!

      • Frank Mullen says:

        The only “treasures” I ever found in such pockets were dried up old crusty Kleenexes or remnants of old Charms suckers that never quite got thrown away until they were just the white paper stick. You must have had better pockets than I. Or better hygiene habits (!)

  14. Jim, the story of the soup hit close to my home also, but instead of it being my mom it was my grandma, although we didn’t live with her I remember her making soup the same way. I can say I do make mine similar to her but now it is down sized its no longer a Big Pot of soup just a pot of soup since it is only my husband and I…Keep up the great writing.

  15. Tom Lane says:

    One of my favorite fall stories, was when my sister and mother would go shopping on a brisk fall Saturday afternoon, and my Dad would prepare chili in a skillet. I got to help (which amounted to stirring now and then) and there was something great about just he and I spending that time. When it was done, we even ate it in the living room as we watch some football game on tv. And we never ate in the living room, except for those times. tom

  16. Tom March says:

    As a young boy in Duquesne, I remember buying a loaf of bread and having it sliced for us on the bread slicer with the green frame and all those blades. I had forgotten about that. Thanks for bringing that back. We left Duquesne when I was 9 but now I know where mom got her skills at soup making. Like you I preferred the cold most all my life until the last few years. I remember my cousin and I going outside and playing in the snow for so long we came very close to frost bite on our toes. My aunt Jean made us soak our feet in cold water and even though it was cold, it felt like it burned when we first put our feet in it.

  17. PS…I DID relate to the “soup bone” and “making of the soup story”…..miss that. I must go find a “soup bone” and some “shank” (what my Mom used!!) to make some of that good hunky stuff!!!!

  18. I will take my Florida sunshine any day…do NOT miss that WHITE STUFF AT ALL!!! I visit only once in awhile in the winter… they say “to each his own”!!!!!

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