One autumn when I was working at the local orchard grading apples, one of my co-workers was Ruthanne Odell. She was a fun person to talk to, and we talked every chance we got. One day in the course of our conversation, she said, "I think I'll make hamburger stew tonight."
"What? I've never heard of hamburger stew!"
"You've never made hamburger stew? I'll bring some in a thermos tomorrow, and you can taste it."
It was very good, and I asked her what was in it and how she fixed it.
"You brown some hamburger with onion; then you put in enough water for the stew and add carrots and potatoes. And barley, but not too much, 'cause it's kinda slick-like if you use too much. Then toward the end, add a little cabbage; I can't use as much as I'd like, 'cause my kids won't eat it if there's too much cabbage. You can add celery if you got it."
So I went home and created the first of many batches of hamburger stew. It's really just vegetable-beef soup, using browned ground beef for the meat. I experimented and found I wasn't afraid to use more barley. After several years, I started adding some canned tomatoes, simply because I like to pack all the veggies into a dish as possible. Vegetables are good for you!
When available, I also add some okra... not too much, or you WILL have some slick soup.
Every time I make hamburger stew, I think of Ruthanne, and remember how a simple conversation led to one of our favorite wintertime dishes around here.
And it amazes me that I still remember that conversation with someone I haven't seen in thirty years.