As the summer turns to fall in Northeast Pennsylvania, Jerry Blakeslee keeps things fresh.

The Falls Twp. resident has made her Ragout Au Pistou (aka French Vegetable Stew) for years. The recipe — which earned her a $50 gift card to Riccardo’s Market, 1219 Wheeler Ave., Dunmore, that she will donate to Seven Loaves Soup Kitchen, Tunkhannock — came from a Redbook Magazine in the ’70s. Almost all of the ingredients come straight from her garden.

“Much of what we make is seasonal, and this is the perfect soup that utilizes all of those freshly grown vegetables,” she said during a recent day at the house she shares with her husband, Ted. “When many people hear ‘soup,’ they may not think it’s hearty and filling, but this is a meal.”

The soup is packed with vegetables and herbs, including zucchini, squash, green beans, dill weed and basil.

“It’s the best way to clear out the garden,” her husband added.

However, Blakeslee said cooks can switch up the vegetables used in the recipe as well as the type of pasta. It’s the pistou — a French cold sauce made from cloves of garlic, fresh basil, and olive oil — that gives the soup its delicious taste, she said.

Blakeslee, who along with her husband is a retired Abington Heights School District teacher, prefers to create dishes with ingredients she can find in her own backyard, which includes corn, broccoli, lettuce, melons, peaches, apples and more. She is not only a gardener and cook but also a skilled baker. While she makes her own bread and a delicious Chocolate Zucchini Cake, she also has a recipe for Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies that family and friends go wild for. She owns dozens of cookie cutters in different seasonal and holiday shapes. Whenever she makes them, it’s her grandchildren’s jobs to help decorate.

The best part of cooking and baking is spending time in the kitchen with family, Blakeslee said. First, she made these memories with her daughters, Hilary and Lori, while they were growing up. Now, Blakeslee does the same with her grandchildren. Carter, 13, and Hailey, 7, love to help their grandparents make their famous recipes, including a scratch-made pizza that’s a staple during sleepovers. Youngest grandchild Luca, 4, and his family live out West, though he helps when he comes in to visit.

Blakeslee feels grateful she can pass down these traditions and recipes to the next generations.

“You think back to all those wonderful times with your own children and then you get to do it all over again with your grandchildren,” she said. “We always talk about the most important ingredient. I’ll say, ‘Don’t forget our secret ingredient,’ and they’ll say, ‘We have to put in the love.’ The love is the most important part of any recipe.”


Jerry Blakeslee’s Ragout Au Pistou (aka French Vegetable Stew)

For the pistou:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Three cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill weed, packed
  • 5 fresh basil leaves or 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan (fresh preferred)

Place oil and garlic in a blender and blend until garlic is crushed. Add dill weed and basil. Blend until smooth. Add cheese and blend at medium speed until a green-flecked paste forms. Stop and push down contents with rubber scraper. Remove from blender and store in a tightly covered container. Refrigerate. (Pistou can be made the day before.)

For the stew:

  • 6 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 16 ounces navy or northern beans, drained
  • 30 ounces canned diced tomatoes
  • 1 pound green beans, broken into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup small pasta of choice (Blakeslee uses farfalle)
  • 1 pound zucchini (about 3 1/2 cups cut into bite-sized pieces)
  • 1/2 pound yellow squash, cut
  • Grated Parmesan, to garnish

Bring water to a boil in a large soup pot and add salt. Add canned beans and tomatoes. Cook 5 minutes. Add fresh green beans and pasta, cook 5 minutes. Add squash and cook until desired tenderness.

Add some of broth to pistou. Add this mixture of broth and pistou to soup pot and stir over low heat. Ladle into soup bowls. Sprinkle more grated cheese over top.