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How to Make Beef Barley Halloween Soup - The Story of an Edible Halloween Tradition In An Unexpected Recipe

Updated on October 6, 2012

Memories of Halloweens Past

"Howdy Pardner..I think there's a snake in my boot..."  My son as Cowboy Woody, Halloween 1998.
"Howdy Pardner..I think there's a snake in my boot..." My son as Cowboy Woody, Halloween 1998. | Source
My daughter and a friend playing the "Mummy Wrap" game.  Halloween 2003
My daughter and a friend playing the "Mummy Wrap" game. Halloween 2003 | Source

The Story of Halloween Soup

The way to a time honored and cherished tradition can sometimes be found on the most unsuspecting or unexpected paths.

Eighteen years ago, on my son's first Halloween, we were living about two hours away from all of our immediate family, and because it was his first Halloween, all of the grandparents, a couple of the aunts, and a few friends, decided that they would come to us for the evening. Of course, this was not a well thought out pre-planned event, but one of those; oh how wonderful! You're all coming when? Tonight!? Events that predictably happen to you at two-thirty in the afternoon, while you are at work, and your house hasn't been cleaned, and you haven't the slightest idea what you're going to feed all those unexpected guests.

Arriving at home, I straightened up the house, enlisted my husband to clean the bathrooms, and set about trying to figure out what I could make quickly, from the ingredients I had on hand, that would feed all those extra mouths. A frantic searching of my cookbooks and recipes paid off in the form of a perfect hearty rib-sticking soup that promised not only to be filling, but to go the extra distance as well. Only one problem stood in my way; I had some of the ingredients already in my pantry or refrigerator; but I didn't have them all, and with dusk, trick-or-treaters, and my impending company, all looming just over the horizon, there was no time to waste, not even for the quickest of trips to a grocery store.

Overcoming the urge to hyperventilate right there in the middle of my kitchen, I took a deep breath and then did exactly what my father the Marine had been telling me to do all of my life; I improvised, I adapted, and I overcame.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

.First, I read carefully through the list of ingredients in the recipe and set about retrieving all the items that I did have. Then I began a second read through, stopping at each of the missing ingredients, and set my brain and the handy list of substitutions in the back of my mom's old Betty Crocker Cookbook to work on replacing the others. It turned out that this was not nearly as difficult as I had anticipated, and in relatively no time at all I had everything I needed assembled on the counter before me. With the main course nearly a fait accompli, I turned my attention to side dishes and dessert.

Thanks to my husband’s serious addiction to a bed-time bowl of ice cream, and my sweet tooth, there were three kinds of ice cream, and a Sarah Lee pound cake in the freezer, as well as a cookie jar full of chocolate chip cookies I had baked the Saturday before, making dessert an easy fix; but what would I do about side dishes? With the clock ticking down, my on-hand resources and my time both being limited, I decided that it was time to call for reinforcements. A quick call to my mother-in-law to request that she stop in route to pick up a couple of loaves of thick crusty sourdough bread, followed by a second call to my father for a big bag of salad, a couple of tomatoes, and a bottle of Italian dressing, and voila! My crisis was suddenly averted.

As I chopped, diced, and browned the soup components (about twenty minutes prep time) my husband wrestled our five month old son into his Winnie the Pooh costume and gave him a bottle. Just as the sun slid completely from sight, and with the nearly done soup simmering on the stove, our guests arrived, nearly en masse, just in time to see the first of the trick-or-treaters.

Dinner was served buffet style, with the soup being ladled straight from the pot on the stove as we all took turns oohing and awing over the assorted ghosts, goblins, and princesses who came calling for their treats. I scored major hostessing points that evening, as what had only a few hours before seemed to me to be an impossible and bothersome feat, became the treasured memory of my son’s first Halloween.

The True Magic of Halloween Soup

I made this soup again the following year for my daughter's first Halloween, and then the following year, and the one after that as well. Somewhere in the midst of those years my niece and two older children had begun to call it Halloween Soup, and by the time that my husband was again up for orders, the making of my improvised soup had become as much a part of our Halloween as the buying of candy and the making of costumes.

The summer that my son turned five and my daughter turned four, my husband's orders took us over a thousand miles away from our home and our extended family. Settling into our new home, the thought of spending the holidays away from them was such a sad one, that I looked toward the approaching fall and winter with dread in my heart, and had even considered the skipping of the soup that year, but relented when my husband invited a couple of the single sailors from his command to join us for dinner that night. Hearing that their father was bringing home dinner guests, our children thought it only fair that they should invite some of their new friends, who were of course accompanied by the requisite parents, and before I knew it, I was cooking two pots of soup and there was a party at our house.

Just as it had on that first night, that simple soup worked it’s special magic, and as we gathered with our new friends in our new home, it set the tone for the approaching holiday season.

It has been nearly eighteen years since I hurriedly threw together the ingredients for that first pot of soup, and for all of those years I have watched it work its special magic, as on every All Hallows Eve, those who are most important in our lives gather at our home to enjoy each other’s company before heading out to trick or treat.

Traditions are born out of our love for each other, so wherever you are, whatever your tradition may be; Remember to Savor the Moment with those you love and enjoy!


  • 3 lbs. Ground Beef or Ground Turkey, Browned
  • Butter or Margerine
  • 1 large or 2 small White or Yellow Onions, Diced
  • Enough to equal 2 cups or about 3 Large Stalks Celery, Diced
  • Enough to equal 2 Cups Carrots, Diced
  • 1 16 ounce Bag Pearl Barley
  • 3 Cubes or enough to equal 3 Cubes Beef Bouillion, Dissolved in 3 Cups of water
  • 3 Cubes or enough to equal 3 Cubes Chicken Bouillion, Dissolved in 3 Cups of water
  • To taste White Pepper
  • To taste Garlic Salt


  1. In a large skillet or frying pan, season ground beef or turkey with garlic salt and white pepper to taste, and stirring frequently, brown the meat over medium-high heat until no pink shows. Set aside
  2. In the bottom of a large stock pot (8 quarts or larger), melt butter, add diced carrots, and over high heat, saute for between three to five minutes.
  3. Add diced celery and saute for an additional three to five minutes
  4. Add diced onion and saute for an additional five to eight minutes.
  5. Add browned and seasoned ground beef/turkey to mixture and mix well, allowing entire mixture to saute for another three to five minutes.
  6. Reduce heat to medium/medium low and add entire 16 oz bag of pearl barley, mix well.
  7. To vegetable/meat/barley mixture add the entire 6 cups of water and bouillon
  8. Bring soup just to a boil
  9. Reduce the heat to low, place lid on pot, and allow to simmer for about an hour and a half, stirring semi-frequently to keep soup from scorching on the bottom.
  10. After an hour and a half, add remaining two cups of water and stir well. Replace lid, and allow to simmer over very low heat for an additonal one-two hours. (still stirring occasionally to prevent scorching)
  11. Soup is ready to serve when barley is fully cooked, and the soup has reached preferred thickness.
  12. If soup should become to thick, more liquid can be added. (chicken, beef, or vegetable broth will work equally as well .) When adding water it may become necessary to add more seasoning or bouillon.

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Cook Time

Prep time: 20 min
Cook time: 3 hours 30 min
Ready in: 3 hours 50 min
Yields: 6-10 people depending upon amount served.

Some of Our Other Family Halloween Traditions

My youngest daughter on her first Halloween in 2007, wearing the same Winnie the Pooh costume that was first worn by her brother in 1994, her sister in 1995, and most recently by my nephew on his first Halloween in 2010.
My youngest daughter on her first Halloween in 2007, wearing the same Winnie the Pooh costume that was first worn by her brother in 1994, her sister in 1995, and most recently by my nephew on his first Halloween in 2010. | Source
"and so, the great pumpkin rises up out of the pumpkin patch"  My son and daughter on their first trip to pumpkin farm with my dad.  A tradition he kept until they were both teenagers, even when it meant traveling from California to Memphis to do so!
"and so, the great pumpkin rises up out of the pumpkin patch" My son and daughter on their first trip to pumpkin farm with my dad. A tradition he kept until they were both teenagers, even when it meant traveling from California to Memphis to do so! | Source

Guides Sure to Help you to Turn this Halloween into One They Will Always Remember

A Halloween How-To: Costumes, Parties, Decorations, and Destinations
A Halloween How-To: Costumes, Parties, Decorations, and Destinations
From author Lesley Bannatyne comes this 272 page quintessential Halloween guide that from decorating your house and yard, to planning the ultimate Halloween party to everything you ever wanted to know about the history of Halloween, includes everything you need to know to make your Halloween the best in the neighborhood!

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