‘Catholic Gardener’ Margaret Rose Realy — With a Recipe for St. Benedict Soup
The Benedict oblate lives an eremitical life in Michigan, from where she shares her faith and love of gardening with readers worldwide.
A native of Detroit, Michigan, Margaret Rose Realy is a Benedictine Oblate with St. Benedict Monastery in Oxford, Michigan. Living an eremitic life as a supplicant, she is an Advanced Master Gardener and a certified greenhouse grower with decades of experience. Margaret is a columnist at several online publications, and is the owner of Morning Rose Prayer Gardens, a liturgical gardens business.
She is perhaps now best known for her four remarkable gardening books with spiritual ties:
- A Garden Catechism: 100 Plants in the Christian Tradition and How to Grow Them (2022, Our Sunday Visitor);
- A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac, Cultivating Your Faith Throughout the Year (2015, Ave Maria Press;
- Cultivating God’s Garden through Lent (2013, Patheos Press); and
- A Garden of Visible Prayer: Creating a Personal Sacred Space One Step At a Time, which was so well received that it has remained in print for more than 20 years, from three successive publishing houses.
Reminiscing about her earlier life, she had more or less walked away from the Church as a young adult, but after a few decades, wanted to return. “Because my confirmation was cultural and not personal,” she said, “I chose to recommit to the Church and began an eremitic life, though I am not fully secluded.”
At that time, she decided as her oblation to the Church to build prayer and memorial gardens at St. Francis Retreat Center in DeWitt, Michigan. Her spiritual director, Father Larry Delany, helped her realize she had a calling to solitude, so she started pursuing that life as a supplicant and writer. A friend suggested she look into becoming a Benedictine oblate.
As a contributor to the website Catholic Mom, Margaret has often offered soup recipes. She has found a spirituality in cooking soups. “I take all leftover pieces and combine them into something nutritious.” she said.” For health code reasons, I do not donate to a soup kitchen, but if there is a volunteer event there, I would take two or three kettles to share.”
And her most popular soup? “My favorite is to make a recipe that my grandmother made, an oxtail soup and it is a hearty combination of flavors. It is a dense soup and you don’t need to eat a lot to fill you up. And when you use the oxtail itself, instead of stewing beef, the soup is richer in flavor.”
When asked about the easiest soup, she said, would be making a chicken noodle soup with peas, carrots, onions and egg noodles. Her soup-making process was helped out by her expansive vegetable garden in which she grew potatoes, carrots, onions and peas. “I am never really happy with canned soups,” she said. “The best soup is fresh with better texture and flavors. You can also freeze soup immediately after cooking.”
Perhaps Margaret’s best-known soup is the St. Benedict’s Soup that she created in honor of St. Benedict’s feast day. Eventually the recipe was posted on Patheos.
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St. Benedict Soup
- 2-3 tablespoons butter
- 1-1/2 cups thinly sliced leeks, white and only a small portion of the green (about 4-6 leeks depending on size)
- 4 cups chicken stock (for Lent, replace with vegetable broth)
- 1 medium russet potato, cooked and mashed, or 1/2 cup instant potatoes
- 16-24 oz. sliced portobello mushrooms, or finely diced
- 1/4 cup diced fresh parsley leaves
- 1/2 cup cream or half-and-half
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
In soup kettle, melt butter, add leeks and sauté until tender but not browned (about 5-8 minutes). Add stock, potato, mushrooms and parsley. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and let simmer for 20 minutes. Add cream and pepper, heat through and serve.
The precooked potato is used as a thickening. Leftover mashed potatoes can be substituted. In the 6th century, old bread would be used. The potato can be cooked in the soup; dice it into small pieces so it will cook quickly. Try using peeled, roasted, mashed parsnips instead of the potato for a distinctly different taste — though the soup will be thinner overall.
As for the cream, sour cream works well but you will need to temper it slowly with warm soup broth before adding it to the pot — otherwise it may curdle when added to the soup.