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updated: 4/25/2013 11:09 AM

Soupalooza: Mushroom Barley Soup brings a flood of good memories

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  • Mushroom Barley Soup made with dried mushrooms, carrots and parsnips is one of M. Eileen Brown's all-time favorite soups.

      Mushroom Barley Soup made with dried mushrooms, carrots and parsnips is one of M. Eileen Brown's all-time favorite soups.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer


Every time I look at the overstuffed, overflowing mess that is my recipe box, I vow to clean up my act by scanning everything and organizing it in some nice tidy folder on my hard drive.

Then, I start rifling through the yellowed scraps, handwritten notes and cut out newspaper clippings and I get all nostalgic (teary, almost). The history of my cooking style and my appetites collide with the story of my life in that old mess of papers.

There's the ladylike recipe for salmon mousse in my mother's neatly printed writing style; my high school boyfriend's mother's recipe for a snappy pimento cheese spread; and the scrawled out instructions, hastily written on the back of an envelope, for the very exotic (at that time) recipe for spinach and strawberry salad. My forays into cooking with avocados, tofu, quinoa and trout are all documented there, as well as my friendships and relationships.

In the middle of the stack, I found the recipe from my former boss and dear friend, Boni, for a nice hearty bowl of mushroom barley soup -- in fact, the best mushroom barley soup I have ever eaten. (Yes, I'm going to say it is even better than the revered mushroom barley soup served at the White Eagle restaurant in Niles.)

The stained photo copy brought back all kinds of happy memories of cooking with Boni, including the time we made 700 pierogis in one afternoon at our friend Judy's house.

Despite the length of this recipe, which is a bit daunting, this soup is worth every single step, down to hydrating the dried mushrooms, which add depth and complexity to the soup.

With its combination of dried and fresh mushrooms, the soup has a nice depth to it. It is thick and hearty, but doesn't use any cream so there's not a lot of fat in this recipe. It's everything that a good mushroom barley soup should be, plus you get to use parsnips, which have sweet, almost nutty flavor.

Ironically, I realized as I was making the soup, Boni got the recipe from another cook I admire, Crescent Dragonwagon, soup maker extraordinaire. Dragonwagon (yes, that's her real name) is the author of some wonderful cookbooks including "Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread: A Country Inn Cookbook," co-written with Paul Hoffman.

So today's recipe for Mushroom-Barley soup comes to you with three very high endorsements: Me, Boni and Crescent. I hope it makes its way into your recipe box, virtual or otherwise.

M. Eileen Brown is the Daily Herald's director of strategic marketing and innovation, and an incurable soup-a-holic. She specializes in vegetarian soups and blogs at

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