Post By Fran Honan
I was preparing my lentil soup the other day like I do every time it starts to get cold. I grabbed lentils, onions, some cans of chunky tomato sauce, and a big pot to cook it all in. When I went to pour some water from my large sink, a memory came back to me.
My own mother didn’t have it so easy when she made lentil soup, or any soup, back when I’d help her as a little girl.
My family lived from 1948 to 1959 in a small apartment in Ozone Park, Queens, just off Liberty Avenue. My mother was from Brooklyn and was not as comfortable living in Queens, where my father was from. The food stores were different. It was more difficult to get around. Her family was far — well, reasonably far — from her now, and it just wan’t the same. Queens wasn’t Brooklyn, and that’s what mattered to her. And what she liked least about our place was the water, which was then very different between the boroughs.
She swore it was “hard water” coming out of our pipes, and while she was fine drinking and cooking other things with it, with soups it was different.
“The water’s better in Brooklyn,” she’d say, insisting that the soups tasted funky created with Queens water. [I found some history of the different water systems for Brooklyn and Queens here, showing my grandmother was not crazy. Well, at least not crazy in regards to the different water taste.-kh]
Whenever she made soup — lentil, split pea, chicken, Italian Wedding with the tiny meatballs — we had to make the trek to my uncle’s house in City Line, Brooklyn. We had fun on the long walk (a couple of miles) to the house with better water, mostly because our jugs were empty. We spent time and had lunch with my Aunt, Uncle, and cousins and then filled the jugs with the “good” water.
The journey home took on a different slant. We carried full gallon containers, which seemed to get heavier with each block. We were exhausted by the time we got home, but my mom still had time to make her pot of soup. When we finally moved to 86th Street Bensonhurst, I think we were all thankful to leave the water trip behind us, even if it’s a nice memory of my mother. She always felt most comfortable when cooking food for us — and I’m no different — and I’m sure was thankful to cook with that better, hometown water for the rest of her life.
Here’s a recipe for my own Lentil Soup.
Franny’s Cold-Weather Lentil Soup
- 1 white onion, diced
- some olive oil (I go by sight)
- carrots, celery (put however much you have of it in the fridge)
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 medium-sized can of crush tomatoes
- 2 cups dry lentils
- chopped pancetta, bacon, or ham — whatever you have in the house
- 8 cups water (Now I use Queens water; I can’t taste the difference, although my daughter tells me Brooklyn water tastes like large condos and gentrification now)
- whatever seasonings you like — i’ll put salt, pepper, oregano, some frozen basil, etc
In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, and celery, and cook until the onion is tender. Add the uncooked pancetta or bacon. Stir in garlic and other seasonings, and cook for about two minutes. Stir in lentils, and add water and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, and simmer for as long as you can. Serve with a loaf of Italian bread and butter.