Potato soup reminds me of times past. It warms my stomach on cold days and makes me happy on evenings at home with my family, even during Benicia’s long days of summer.

One of my go-to meals when I can’t think of anything to cook, potato soup is a staple in my home as it was in my parent’s home when I was young. It’s versatile, cheap, and easy to make—and I can have a hot, homemade meal on the table in under 40 minutes. It was a wonderful everyday meal, but special enough for a family celebration.

My maternal grandmother was an Idaho farm wife who made potato soup and biscuits every Christmas Eve. Feeding family and farm hands, she was kept busy preparing for the big Christmas Day feast. It was the only day in the year that she could get away with soup and not a “real” meal. My mother treasured those memories and carried the tradition forward to her family of four daughters, and my children love it as much as I do.

To make the soup, start with a 4-6 quart pot and add a chopped onion (I’ve recently been using my green onions from the garden—yum!). Throw in a couple stalks of chopped celery and a few sliced carrots. Now for the potatoes: thin-skinned varieties, such as reds and golds, are great, because they can be chopped without peeling (better nutrition with less hassle); thicker-skinned varieties, such as russets, should be peeled. I favor thin, but my mom loves Russets—she’s a quick peeler! Chop 4 or 5 large potatoes (or 7-8 medium) and add to the pot. The secret to great potato soup is to chop some of the potatoes really small, so they disintegrate enough to thicken the soup. Throw in some other veggies if you’d like, such as broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, or corn—this is a great place to disguise something your kids profess to dislike.

Add water to your pot, but just enough to barely cover your veggies, and boil vigorously, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are soft. Add 1 to 2 cans of evaporated milk, pepper, and salt to taste. You can also add chopped ham or crispy bacon pieces. Cook for several more minutes, stirring often, and serve. It’s wonderful the first day, but tastes great as leftovers or in a thermos for kids’ lunches.