by Connie Vandeman Jeffery—
I’m not sure why I felt like making my mom’s split pea soup a couple weeks ago, but I did. It was 85 degrees outside— definitely not soup weather. So I cranked up the A/C and looked in the cupboard and fridge. I found the bag of dried split peas in the pantry, and there were carrots, a few stalks of celery, and a rather pathetic-looking onion in the refrigerator drawer. I was all set. My husband walked by while the soup was simmering and said, “Isn’t it too hot out for soup?” “Maybe,” I said, “but I’m thinking about Mom today, and I had the ingredients.” He understood.
There was no one more hospitable than my mom. She could whip up a delicious Sabbath lunch for unexpected guests and make them feel so special and appreciated. My dad always invited people over after church on Sabbath and for impromptu gatherings centered around food. Mom loved it. It was definitely her spiritual gift. She cooked up a storm, entertained her guests, and wouldn’t let anyone help her clean up the kitchen. She did it all. I didn’t inherit her gift of hospitality. I was a Mary, not a Martha. And I never learned to cook like her. Except her soups. I can make soup.
Guests would always linger at our house. They could have stayed all day and into the night if it was up to my mom. She would bring out the popcorn and root beer floats after sundown and want to party on. But Dad was weary, and I was usually so “over it” when lunch was finished. If the guests didn’t have kids my age, I just wanted them to leave so I could change my clothes and be normal. Dad had the unique knack of graciously dismissing our guests when he was tired. “Shall we have a word of prayer before you leave?” he’d ask at around 4:00 p.m. in his soft, deep voice. And it was quite magical. Guests would stand, dad would pray, Mom would hand them containers of leftovers, and they would vanish. Then, while Dad napped, Mom would let me help her tidy the kitchen.
I asked her why she didn’t teach me to cook. “Oh, honey, you have your whole life to cook. No need to learn now,” she said. So I never really mastered the art of cooking. She also said, “If you can read, you can cook,” which would have been fine if she had written down her recipes. Eventually, I got her to write her soup recipes on 3 x 5 cards. She also contributed to Adventist cookbooks over the years and had to type her recipes for those projects. I have quite a collection now, for which I’m so grateful.
I loved all of my mom’s food, but it was her soup that was my comfort food. She was known for her different varieties of homemade soup as much as she was known for her effervescent personality and warm hospitality. From lentil to split pea to Norwegian fruit soup to navy bean, creamy potato, and vegetable, her signature soups rotated through the seasons of my childhood. Every Friday afternoon the aromatic blend of legumes or dried fruits or vegetables could be found simmering in a large pot on the stove. Friday night supper consisted of endless bowls of soup and a never-ending supply of bread, slathered with butter. Not only was Mom’s soup nourishing and downright tasty, it fed something more than my appetite. Her soup was a symbol of togetherness, comfort, belonging, and, ultimately, love. A feast of hospitality for her family and friends.
I realized a few days after making the aforementioned pot of split pea soup that it was the exact 18th anniversary of her death. It was a totally subconscious but tangible remembrance of Mom on that day. No visit to the cemetery as I usually do on special days like anniversaries and birthdays, just a pot of soup. It felt right.
I’ve become more hospitable as the years have passed. Of course, hospitality is not just about cooking and feeding people. Maya Angelou said it best: “People will forget what you said, forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” I want to be like my mom in that precise way— I want to make people feel warm, appreciated, and loved.
I’ll never be the cook my mother was, but if it were at all possible, I’d like to invite you over for Friday night supper to share a bowl or two of soup and talk about what God continues to do in our lives—yours and mine. Whether you’re a long time Adventist like me or a new Adventist or one who left long ago and wonders if there’s a way back, remember this: You are family, the table is set, and soup’s on!
Connie Vandeman Jeffery is the host of All God’s People, a weekly short video series highlighting the people and ministries of the Pacific Union Conference, and has had a long career in media.