During this season, we are featuring holiday memories from some of our staff women and pastor’s wives, along with their favorite recipes. Enjoy!

Some of my favorite holiday memories are of my family going to my dad’s hometown of Montell, Texas, over Thanksgiving. I remember the smell of the perpetual campfire that burned under the ancient oaks whose limbs stretched long and high overhead. We’d wrap ourselves in blankets as we sat in metal chairs around the fire and stare up into the sky. Those huge ancient live oaks growing around the house my dad grew up in in south Texas always fascinated me. Dad said those oaks were already growing when Santa Ana was a private (That’s Texas-speak for “they’re really old”).

South Texas hardly ever sees snow, so during the fall and winter holidays my brother, sister, cousins and I would run down the hill behind my grandparents’ house and play by Montell Creek. We were free to roam just about anywhere. Countless hours were spent down there watching the clearest, cleanest water I’d ever seen run over fallen limbs and river rock. We were pirates, cops and robbers, river royalty, and a host of other amazing characters as we delved into the depths of our imaginations.

Our parents had a special yell to call us up to the house again. I remember big breakfasts, simple lunches and big family dinners. Neighbors forever stopped by to drink sweet tea with my grandparents. I don’t think I understood until much, much later how connected they were with their community. They loved their neighbors and their neighbors loved them. Holidays were full of feasting and friends.

My grandfather Papa Tom had cattle so we’d go check on the cows after breakfast. I never could understand how he didn’t get lost driving through the cedar-infested pastures of their part of Uvalde County. One cow path looked the same as the next, but not to Papa Tom. He knew that land like the back of his hand. My grandparents worked hard all their lives and I will be forever grateful for their influence on my life.

My grandfather passed away in 1992 and my grandmother’s health declined greatly over the years afterward. We lost her in 2012. But all throughout those years my aunts Liz, Rebecca and Alice did the lion’s share of meal planning for these big family gatherings. As my sister and I grew up, we were inducted into the rhythms of kitchen life. It was there that we really started to hear the details of what we’d been missing in each other’s lives. It was during one of these times that my aunt Rebecca Jane got me to help her make this crazy recipe for Jalapeño Sweet Potato Soup we were all quite unsure of.

Turns out it was a big hit and has since become one of my husband’s favorite fall/winter soups. The recipe credit goes to Cynthia Collins Pedregon and can be found in The Peach Tree Tea Room Cookbook. I’d like to share it with you.

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Jalapeño Sweet Potato Soup

3 slices bacon, finely chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic, sliced
4 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
8 cups chicken broth
¼ cup pickled jalapeños, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons jalapeño juice
1 teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup cilantro leaves
1-1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground

  1. In large stock pot, sauté bacon and onion in butter until just tender. Add garlic and cook about two more minutes.
  2. Add sweet potatoes, chicken broth, pickled jalapeños, jalapeño juice and cumin. Cover and cook until potatoes are tender, about 20-30 minutes.
  3. When done, add soda, cilantro and milk. Coarsely mash potatoes with a potato masher.
  4. Stir well and taste for salt and pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes stirring frequently.

Makes 14 cups.

Garnish with sour cream and 3-4 jalapeños, cut in thin lengthwise strips-pepitas are good, too!

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Jodi LaFrance and her family came to Harvest in 2008 and says she’s “dug in like a turnip.” She currently serves as a worship leader and life group leader at the Plainview Campus.