Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Johnny Hines’s Beef and Tomato Soup with Lettuce

Welcome back! I am cooking every recipe in the 1929 Photoplay Cookbook and you are invited to come along. Today’s recipe is from a popular but forgotten comedian.

You can catch up on all my past taste tests here.

I know Johnny Hines as the resident funnyman at the World production company in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Like most things about World, Hines was a bit classier than the average comedy relief at the time. He was funny without mugging and he even had some sensitive moments that have aged rather well. You can catch him in Alias Jimmy Valentine and A Girl’s Folly.

Hines moved into starring roles in feature films and while he is not a household name like, say, Charlie Chaplin, his later work is available. (For example, The Crackerjack is available from Undercrank.)

So, we know he was a funny fellow but what about his soup skills?

Readers will note an important ingredient that is not often found in soups, at least not American soups: lettuce.

Gulp! Here goes nothing…

I used a yellow onion for this recipe and a 14.5 ounce can of tomatoes. I roughly chopped the onions because they were not going to be staying in the soup anyway.

Plop!

I cooked them in a pot with the lid on for 30 minutes but almost all the liquid evaporated. Were onions juicier in the 1920s?

As a result, I was obliged to add the beef stock to the onions and tomato before straining the lot with a sieve. I don’t really think it made a difference.

The lettuce is butter lettuce, which is my favorite kind and a bit more sturdy than other greens. (Its texture is more similar to spinach.)

Into the pot it went and that was it! If nothing else, this recipe was easy to put together. I was going to make my own croutons but the weather had taken a turn for the warm and I really didn’t feel like it, so these are store bought.

Score: 2 out of 5

Croutons Stolen by a CERTAIN LITTLE DOG: 2

He is unrepentant, the scoundrel.

This recipe tastes like… beef broth with tomato juice. It’s not really interesting and I would have rather had some onions and mushrooms and fresh herbs. The lettuce doesn’t work too well because lettuce has a delicate flavor that is best enjoyed fresh. Something more robust like spinach or kale would likely have yielded a more tasty soup.

I added some shredded fresh lettuce to the soup to make it look a little prettier and to see if it improved the flavor. It did not.

Alas, Johnny Hines was a charming performer and an absolutely deadly dull cook. This recipe isn’t gross or vile, it’s just not very interesting and the lettuce adds nothing at all. I think lighter flavors than beef or tomato might have worked and I certainly think that cooking the lettuce to death was a mistake. Fifteen minutes was just overkill.

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2 Replies to “Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Johnny Hines’s Beef and Tomato Soup with Lettuce”

  1. Couldn’t agree more with the 2 out of 5 rating. My first thought while simply reading Hines’ recipe: a HOT soup with lettuce a prime ingredient? What The Hey…? Have made a nice greens gazpacho with heads of Romaine, a yogurt base, garlic and herbs from the garden that’s pretty tasty, and it preserves the flavor of the lettuce. As to croutons, I’m all for them to garnish any clear soup. A greens gazpacho (any gazpacho, really) benefits from “croutons” made from lightly baked or fried tofu cubes. Not a huge fan of beef broth as a prime ingredient in soups, but that’s merely a personal choice.

    Lovely food and Li’l Bolshie photographs!

    1. Thanks so much! Yeah, this was never going to work. A cold soup with herbs? I’m there! Steamy pho with lost of basil and cilantro? Bring it to me now! This is just kind of sad.

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