Soup and Small-Town Iowa Spirit

As the days grow colder, there’s just something comforting about a big old kettle of soup. Comfort food took on a whole new meaning this fall in Lake City when our community came together in October to raise money for the Alcox family.

Lake City’s fire chief, Mel Alcox, was partially paralyzed by a severe spinal cord injury sustained during an accident at his home in September. Volunteer fire fighters and friends hosted a fundraiser to help the Alcox family with medical expenses for Mel, who has been receiving treatment at a hospital in Des Moines—more than 100 miles away from Lake City.

On a cold, rainy Monday night, farmers took time out from harvest, business owners stopped by after work, and families gathered at the Lake City fire station to put money in the donation box and enjoy hot bowls of homemade soup, ham and cheese sandwiches, and an array of homemade bars—all prepared and donated by community members. Tables throughout the truck bays were filled as p
eople of all ages gathered to show their support for Mel and Phyllis. The kids also enjoyed signing the big, bright get-well cards to Mel, which were displayed in front of one of the fire trucks.

Remember the G-Words
I was happy to share a kettle of my homemade Beef and Barley Soup, which I modified slightly to fit the menu of three soups, including Beef Vegetable Soup, Chili and Chicken Noodle Soup. I’ve included my Beef and Barley Soup recipe below.

While this event raised thousands of dollars for the Alcox family (pretty impressive for a town of 1,800 people and other little towns nearby), it showed how small towns turn kindness and generosity into an art form. It’s also a reminder about how every day is a good day to think about the “G words” of generosity and gratitude.
I think Phyllis Alcox said it best in this Facebook post:

“There are times when we think that small towns don’t have all that we need, but when there is a tragic event in a family’s life, the support and concern for their well-being are overwhelming. And for this we are so very thankful.”

Savor more Iowa food history

Want more fun Iowa food stories and recipes? Check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa” book from The History Press, and order your signed copy today. 


Hearty Beef and Barley Soup

1 pound beef roast, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 tablespoon canola oil

3 cans (14-1/2 ounces each) beef broth

2 cups water

1 cup medium pearl barley

1 tablespoon seasoning salt

1/2 to 1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper

1 teaspoon thyme

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, or 1 teaspoon bouquet garni seasoning

4 bay leaves

3 tablespoons dried parsley

Garlic (either 1 teaspoon dried, minced garlic, 4 cloves fresh garlic to taste or 1 teaspoon garlic salt)

1 can mushrooms (or use 1 to 2 cups fresh mushrooms)

1 can diced tomatoes, undrained

1 cup sliced carrots

1/2 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup frozen or canned corn

1 cup frozen green beans

1 cup potatoes, cubed

1/2 cup dry red wine

1 tablespoon BBQ sauce

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon steak sauce

1 teaspoon horseradish (don’t leave this out—it’s the secret ingredient that makes this soup memorable in a good way!)

In a pan, brown beef in oil; drain. Transfer meat to slow cooker. Add all remaining ingredients. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours. Remove bay leaves before serving. Enjoy!

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