Bum Stew or Bum Soup

The Coal Region has seen its share of hard times. As Anthracite coal and the accompanying industry saw a significant decline by the 1920s and mines and breakers closed, other industries came in to take its place. Manufacturing jobs were available as well as a large amount of garment factory work among other things.

But even then, most families had to be very frugal – many had a lot of mouths to feed, or jobs did not pay well.  Like much of the country, the Coal Region felt the effects of The Great Depression, rationing during WWII, and the attempt to return to “normal” at the end of the war.

A way to save money was to be creative with inexpensive ingredients that made a large volume of food to feed the family, and the shopper in the household carefully planned each and every meal, menu, and trip to the grocery store. The most popular meals or dishes usually consisted of items already in the pantry, easily available, and affordable. Enter “Bum Stew” or “Bum Soup”.

Once again, every cook had “their” version, but basically it consisted of ground beef, potatoes, and green beans simmered in water to create a filling soup. This version in my files also uses condensed tomato soup, a relatively inexpensive pantry item even “back in the day”. It does add a richness to the stock that is otherwise absent, but when times were tough, even a can of tomato soup took money out of the family budget, therefore many people only remember bum stew made with water.  You can also use some canned beef stock in place of water if you choose.

Many folks who remember growing up eating “bum stew” still crave it today, even if they can afford more expensive meals.  Good memories have no price tags! As with most soups and stews, the flavors develop if made one day, refrigerated, then reheated to serve the next day.

Bum Stew or Bum Soup

Recipe by A Coalcracker in the KitchenCourse: SoupsCuisine: Coal RegionDifficulty: Easy


  • 1 pound ground beef

  • 1 – 10.75 ounce can condensed tomato soup

  • 5 cups water

  • 1 large onion, chopped small

  • 4 carrots, peeled and small dice

  • 3 potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes

  • 1 lb. fresh green beans, cleaned and cut into bite sized pieces

  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Brown the ground beef in a large pot.  Drain off half of the fat.
  • To the pot and beef, add the onions, carrots, and potatoes,. Toss and cook the vegetables to get some color on them.
  • Add the tomato soup, water, and green beans to the pot with the beef.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Bring to boil then reduce heat to simmer. Simmer, covered, for 30 – 40 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
  • Serve hot.