Mrs. Heins’ Barley Hot Dish

A few years ago I bought a used cookbook published in 1962 by the Ladies Aid of the Eidskog Church in Ortonville, Minnesota. Ortonville is a small city in western Minnesota founded by Cornelius Knute Orton and incorporated in 1881. Four years later, Scandinavian immigrants in the area began worshipping together in their new church. Services were conducted in Norwegian until 1942.

Like many churches in rural areas, Eidskog experienced shrinking membership in the past few decades. Finally, after 130 years of serving their congregants and community, the church was forced to close. Hoping that the church furnishings could continue to be used by another congregation, Eidskog advertised in The Lutheran that it was closing and wanted to contribute items to any interested church.

The ad caught the eye of Dick Jackson, a member of a new congregation in River Falls, Wisconsin, that was planning a church building. Jackson and his wife met with people from Eidskog and recommended that Hope Lutheran Church accept the generous gift offered by the Eidskog congregation. The River Falls Journal published the story on November 11, 2015. Today, Hope Lutheran is a vibrant congregation with kitchen equipment and even the pews from the church built 130 years ago by those immigrants on the prairie.

I treasure the cookbook put together by the Ladies Aid of that old church. There are eighteen sections in the book, each headed by a verse from the Bible. The last two sections are not recipes but rather useful notes for housewives. “Stain Removal” includes a tip for removing cod liver oil stains, which brought back a memory of dodging the spoon when Mom dosed us with that nasty stuff from the brown bottle. “Household Hints” is organized as a series of “Did you know” questions, and I may test the one suggesting “That hamburger fried in ketchup gives it a barbecue flavor.”

Many of the recipes remind me of potlucks of long ago, and not all of the memories are pleasant. For example, there are seventeen recipes for salads made with Jello or gelatin including the infamous Jello Carrot Salad. However, even the salad section has lots of recipes I would like to try, and as might be expected in a Lutheran Ladies Aid cookbook, the hot dish section is loaded with intriguing possibilities.

One that tempted me used barley instead of the noodles or rice so often found in potluck dishes. I hesitated to try it when I saw that one ingredient was a can of green peas, but I am glad I made it. The barley lends a satisfying texture missing from rice or noodles, and the combination of vegetables is delicious. You might want to make it for the next potluck you attend. If you think “hot dish” is too pedestrian, you could call it Beef and Vegetable Stew, since that is what it’s like.


2 tsp. shortening
1 1/2 lbs. lean ground beef (at least 85% lean)
1 small onion (2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter)
1 large or 2 medium ribs of celery
3/4 cup pearl barley
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 green bell pepper (about 3 inches in diameter)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can green peas
1 can cream of mushroom soup
2 – 3 T water


Coat a large skillet with the shortening and cook the ground beef over moderate heat until it is no longer pink. While the meat is cooking, clean and chop the onion into a quarter-inch dice and the celery into half-inch pieces.

Preheat the oven to 375º and lightly grease a three quart casserole.

Add the onion, celery and barley to the meat along with the salt and pepper and continue cooking for about five minutes. Wash the pepper, cut it into quarters and remove the seeds and white membrane. Chop the pepper into a half to three-quarter-inch dice.

If the skillet is large enough, add the pepper, tomatoes, peas and the can of mushroom soup to the meat mixture. If it is not, combine everything in a large mixing bowl. Rinse out the cans with two or three tablespoons of water, stir everything together and spoon the mixture into a three-quart casserole.

Cover and bake for 1 1/2 hours.

NOTES: This recipe is from a Lutheran cookbook. Feel free to add a little more salt and pepper or even a few drops of hot sauce if you prefer a spicier dish.

Do not drain the vegetables, as you want the flavor and liquid in the dish.

Finally, a sincere thank you to Mrs. Heins for her recipe and to all her friends who worked so hard at Eidskog and in so many other churches to share their favorite recipes with latecomers like me.

Oxtail Soup–A Peasant Recipe Goes Gourmet

Time was when oxtails were cheap.  In fact, if you bought some hamburger and a pot roast from one of the butchers in Hayward, Wisconsin, where I grew up in the 1950’s, he would often give you an oxtail free if you asked for it.  When hamburger was 30¢ a pound, oxtails were a nickel or dime.  

Oxtails were peasant food.  That was probably why my mother made oxtail soup, and I know that was why I made it when Jerri and I were first married. 

How times have changed.  When I told a friend what I had to pay for oxtails last week, he said, “Why not use prime rib?”  However, when I make oxtail soup, I don’t want to skimp on ingredients.  Prime rib is good, but it won’t make one of the finest beef soups you will ever taste. 

From what I read, gourmet chefs are responsible for the high cost of oxtails today.  They’ve discovered that oxtails are a wonderful meat, whether braised or barbecued, used to make a paté, ragout, terrine, stew or…soup.  And since there is only one tail per cow, oxtails provide a perfect example of the law of supply and demand.

Mr. Olson, the butcher who supplied us with many oxtails when I was a boy, would have thought you were crazy if you had told him that people would some day pay more for oxtails than hamburger.  Today you are competing with people who pay $5 for a cup of coffee, but you need an oxtail no matter what the cost. 

As is true with any meat you buy, the cost of oxtails varies from store to store.  In the past year, I have seen prices from under six to over ten dollars per pound, which is pretty darned expensive for meat that is mostly bones and gristle.  However, the connective tissue and bones are the reason why oxtails make such great soup.   The long slow simmering releases the gelatin and flavor, which creates the delicious full-bodied broth that characterizes this wonderful vegetable beef soup.   

This is my recipe from over forty years ago.  I don’t make it too often today: Oxtails are pricey, but I can resist temptation only so long.  Make this soup once, and you’ll begin saving pennies for the next batch.  


1 oxtail, 3 to 4 lbs., disjointed (cut into sections)

4 or 5 slices bacon

1- 3 T butter

1 medium onion

4 – 5 cups water

4 cups beef broth

1/2 — 1  tsp. salt

1/2  tsp. freshly ground black pepper 

2 bay leaves 

4 whole cloves

3 or 4 garlic cloves

1 large carrot

1 small diced rutabaga

1 medium diced parsnip

2 ribs celery

1/4 cup parsley 

1 small to medium tomato

1 cup pearl barley

1/2 tsp. thyme

1/2 tsp. marjoram

1/2 tsp. basil

1 cup dry red wine

2 T butter

2 T flour


Cut the bacon into small pieces and brown them slowly in a large soup pot until the bacon is crisp.  Remove the bacon but leave the bacon fat in the pan.  You should have at least two tablespoons of fat to brown the oxtails.  Add a tablespoon of butter if you wish.


Increase the heat and brown the oxtails, turning them to brown on all sides.  While the oxtails are browning, chop the onion. Remove the oxtails when they have browned.  If necessary drain excess fat.  Reduce heat to low.  Add the chopped onions to about two tablespoons of fat and stir them until they are translucent.  Return the crisp bacon and the oxtails to the pot.  Increase the heat and add the water, broth and salt and pepper.  

Remove the paper from the garlic toes and cut them in half.  Put them with the bay leaves and cloves in a spice bag or tied in a piece of cheesecloth and drop it in the pot.  Bring to boiling, reduce the heat, cover and let simmer for three to five hours, stirring occasionally and checking to make certain that there is plenty of liquid covering the oxtails.  Add more water if necessary.  The meat should come easily off the bones.  If it does not, let it simmer a bit longer.

When the oxtails have cooked long enough, turn off the heat and use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove them from the liquid.  Remove and discard the spice bag.  Let the oxtails and broth cool.  After it has cooled,  chill it in the refrigerator.  Skim most of the fat off the broth.  If all is going well, you will see that that cold broth resembles a soft gelatin.  

While the broth is cooling, remove the meat from the oxtails with a small knife, taking care to separate the fat from the meat.  You will end up with shredded beef which you will return to the broth. 

Peel and dice the parsnip and rutabaga and scrub and dice the carrot and celery stalks.  You should have about 1 cup each of carrot, rutabaga and parsnip and about one and one-half to two cups of celery.  Remove the stem scar from the tomato and dice it quite fine.  Chop the parsley fine.  

Heat the broth to a gentle simmer.  Stir the meat and vegetables into the broth along with the the cup of barley.  Add the wine, thyme, marjoram and basil and parsley.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer very gently for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

Make a roux by browning two tablespoons of flour in two tablespoons of butter over moderate heat.   The roux should be a dark golden brown to help color the soup.  Remove the roux from the heat and carefully add about one cup of the soup broth, stirring well.  Return this mixture to the soup and continue simmering for five to ten minutes.  Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.

Serve with a green salad and fresh bread.

As with most meat and vegetable soups, oxtail soup is even better warmed up.  It can be frozen and reheated for quick lunches or dinners.

NOTES:  If you don’t have beef broth in the house, use three bouillon cubes with the water.  Feel free to brown some cubes of steak with the oxtails if you want more meat in the soup.