“It’s time to go down into the cave house and get some potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables and make a beef stew.”
That’s a statement that you don’t hear too often today. Not many root cellars survive today and most people have no idea what one is. A large root cellar was a part of the Latshaw Farm on Wall Street in Spring City. Aunt Sara and Uncle Russell always referred to it as the “cave house.” In their backyard was a mound of earth with two terracotta pipes protruding from the top. If you shouted down those pipes you could make all kinds of echo-ey ghoulish sounds. It was great fun to take an unsuspecting cousin and have them listen for the “monster” at one pipe while you provided the sound effects at the other.
The cave house was accessed through an adjacent shed. Behind a wooden door was a full flight of stairs taking you down into the earth. A single clear incandescent light bulb illuminated the storage room at the bottom of the steps. It was a tubular dome-shaped room with a concrete floor and plastered walls and ceiling. The walls were lined with wooden benches upon which were peach baskets of potatoes, apples, turnips as well as any other fall-harvested vegetables that kept well in the constant 54° temperature. It was a great place to explore on a hot summer afternoon.
Beef was one of Aunt Sara’s favorite foods. Family dinners she hosted almost always included beef as the main course. Each year, she would have a steer butchered and the labeled packages wrapped in white butcher paper would be stacked in her chest freezer. The beef she served was always tender, moist, and flavorful.
This version of beef stew is a compilation of a number of recipes I’ve used over the years, and is probably one of the simplest to prepare. It’s not a dish that you can have on the table in 20 minutes. While the actual prep and hands-on cooking time takes less than 20 minutes, allowing beef stew to simmer for a couple of hours will make all the difference.
(click on any image to enlarge it)
1½ - 2 lbs. stew beef
1-2 Tablespoons cooking oil (olive, grape seed, or canola)
2 medium onions, chopped
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon Kosher salt (add more, to taste)
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper (add more, to taste)
1 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
3 bay leaves
2 Tablespoons dried parsley flakes
5 fresh plum tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded, & chopped, or 2 cans diced tomatoes
5 large carrots, peeled, cut in 1” to 1½” pieces
6 medium potatoes, peeled, cut into 1½” to 2” pieces
2 cans sliced mushrooms
3 cans beef broth (approx. 46 oz.)
Begin to brown the beef cubes in the oil over medium heat.