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Friday, January 11, 2008

National Soup Month

"One morning in the garden bed,
The onions and the carrots said
Unto the parsley group
"Oh when shall we three meat again
In thunder, lightning, hail or rain?"
Alas, replied in tones of pain
The parsley, In the Soup!"

January is... National Soup Month. I have quite a few cookbooks that stock themselves with soup recipes. Why not? Soup is just so versatile. Everything in the soup! Sometimes, I have more ingredients in my freezer for soup than I do for meat and potato dinners. I guess you could say I'm a pretty typical saver. I find it quite difficult to throw anything away. Not only food but most anything. But, we're talking about soup here. I freeze and save stock, bones, leftover vegetables, rice and most anything of substance. I'm very good about dating and labeling everything I save in the freezer. Sometimes, I even write a little note on the label. Use for sauce. Save for soup. In the winter months, versatility and nourishment blend well together. It's the perfect time to "clean" out the freezer and use all those leftover bounties. I'm not crazy about going to the grocery store and in the winter, I like it even less. Rummaging through the freezer saves me a trip plus, and here's the best part, I get to create.

Soup is a good learning tool especially, for beginning cooks. All of the basics of the kitchen are experienced and enjoyed in a pot of soup. For instance, if you build from the bottom up, the soup pot would be the first consideration. I like my stock pot to be heavy, with a reinforced durable bottom. I want to be able to use the pot for other dishes besides soup or stock. I want to be able to make a hearty spaghetti sauce in it, boil corn on the cob in it, cook pasta in it and be able to use it for braising. I want all of the ingredients to fit in the bottom without burning and I want to be able to stack the ingredients in layers.

Ingredients are next. My first layer usually begins with a bit of cooking oil. I don't always use olive oil. Actually, I don't always use oil per se. Depending on the soup, I choose my "grease" accordingly. For instance, if I were making pea soup, I would probably use bacon as my "grease." A few strips of bacon, some onions, and perhaps, a bit of leftover ham skin I froze from a leftover baked ham. If I were making chicken soup, I might still use some bacon, perhaps, turkey bacon and some leftover chicken grease I have frozen. I told you I save EVERYTHING! For someone new to cooking, the choices are a lesson, the layers are a consideration and what should be frozen the next time is experienced. Darn, just a tablespoon of bacon fat would sure come in handy right now and add just that bit of flavor for the next layer.

The seasonings. I use seasonings in all layers of the soup. Back to the pea soup. I've fried my strips of bacon. Yes, I do have some frozen but, that will stay and I have bacon in the fridge I really should use so, I will use it and save the other for another time. The onions I have will work in the pea soup but, I have an assortment of onions in the freezer. Pearl onions, diced onions, farm stand onions and sweet vidalia onions I saved from when the kids were here. I think I'll use the vidalia onions. They add a bit of interest to the soup as they glisten and absorb the essence of the peas. I slowly add the frozen onions to the bacon which is now ready for and waiting for the onions. Can you smell it yet? Of course you can't. Too bad...I'm not to keen on adding too many herbs and spices to pea soup. One reason is I usually have saved quite a bit of stock from the baked ham I had leftover and I don't want to confuse the flavorings of the ham by adding unnecessary herbs and spices. I do like my pea soup slightly smokey though so I will add a tiny bit of smoke seasoning. I like hickory flavored salt but I'll go lightly on it as the ham is slightly salty and I don't want to have too much before I even start. I'll just sprinkle and let it be while I get my next layer ready.

So, let's see, what's going in the soup next. Our novice soup brewer has simply gotten to the step where the scents in the background are stimulating the ingredients in the mind. Wait, I don't want to make this pea soup. Perhaps, I'll whip up some ham and potato soup instead. I'll chop and add some celery real quick (nope no celery in the freezer) and let it capture the essence of the vidalia. I have chunks of ham in the freezer. I'll use them instead of the ham bone and drippings that I have frozen in a separate freezer bag. I don't like frozen potatoes in soup so I'll use fresh. I do have some corn frozen fresh from the last harvest. Mmmm...that'll be wonderful. Ham, Potato and Corn Soup. Whoops, if I'm adding the ham chunks, dice up some red potatoes, and make it nice and thick, I'll call it Ham, Potato and Corn Chowder. I have more ham than I do potatoes or I'd just switch it around. Potato, Corn Chowder with Ham. Look at that, now I'm inventing a new recipe to my recipe file. I should write it down right now. I have a nice, clear, spicy pepper stock in the freezer. It's probably around a quart or so. I think I'll add that first, right over the clear layer of onions and celery. I wish there were a few peppers in the stock but wait, I have a half of stuffed pepper in the freezer. It's stuffed with rice and who knows what else but I'm sure it isn't enough to damage the soup. If anything, it will probably add a surprise flavor and texture. Subtle but effective. I'm going to have to get the skin off the pepper though. The pepper pulp is fine but no no no skin. I'll let the first couple of layers simmer and prepare the pepper. Oh, it's fine in my book, that it's frozen. It's going to be in that soup for quite a while. I'm going to cut it up after I skin it. I'm not going to change the title of my new soup recipe to Ham Potato and Corn Chowder to include pepper but, I will now make it Spicy, Potato, Ham and Corn Chowder. I didn't like the way it rested with the Spicy Ham so now I'll add a few more potatoes and switch the title. I can do that, It's my "chowder" soup!

I need a recap. I suppose what I'm trying to conger up here is a supportive reason to rekindle our souls with a newly created soup to celebrate soup month and the oh so glorious expectation of the first slurp. I hope to reach out to those new kitchen spirits who long for a warm down home reminder in the mist of the cold winter. My daughter, who isn't much of a cook, now lives in Idaho. I know before this winter is over, she will be calling and asking for a recipe for Pasta Fazoule (Beans and Macaroni) which in our house we prepare like a soup. It's a seasonal reminder of the cherished times we spent in the kitchen together. Pasta Fazoole warms up the bitterly cold Idaho nights and like many soups, once it's started, it just simmers and offers the bonus of the melting layers. Pasta Fazoule are the first words my children tried to pronounce in Italian. We still kid about the mispronunciation. I've decided not to continue with the layering of the pea soup now transformed into Spicy, Potato, Ham and Corn Chowder. Instead, I am including a recipe from the book titled A Meal In Itself by Mary Frost Mabon copyright 1944. It's a recipe for Joan Fontaine's Soup. I thought I would include it since I didn't find a recipe for Joan Fontaine's soup when I Googled it. From the book:

Indeed a meal in itself, homemade soup deserves to be brought back to the stock pot. As the great Louis P. De Gouy writes, "Soup is to the meal what the hostess's smile of welcome is to the party, a prelude to the goodness to come." Back in 1944, Joan Fontaine was "an astonishing cook" Here is a recipe for Joan Fontaine's Soup
Joan Fontaine's Soup
3 small leeks
4 large potatoes
a little butter
2 quarts broth
light cream to taste
chopped hard boiled egg
chopped crisp bacon
chopped chives
Clean the leeks, then cut the white part and the pale green part in thin rounds. Put these in a heavy pot, add enough butter to keep from burning, and cook, slowly, covered, till the leeks are softened. Do not let them color. Then add peeled, thinly sliced potatoes, broth, parsley or celery. Simmer till vegetables are soft. Pass through a sieve and add light cream to taste. Also, add salt & pepper. Reheat before serving and sprinkle each plate of soup thickly with chopped egg and bacon.
NOTE: To prepare this cold, omit the chopped egg & bacon. Chill for several hours. A drop of two of worcestershire may be added. Whip with mixer before serving with chopped chives on top.

The next cook book I would like to share, is The Master Book of Soups by Henry Smith which was published by Spring Books and printed in Czechoslovakia. It does not have a copyright date.

The Master Book of Soups by Henry Smith

From the inside dust jacket cover:

This is the most complete and up to date collection of soup recipes that the housewife could wish for and one which will be equally valuable to the professional cook and the hotel and catering trade. Essential standard recipes are included, but there is also a wide range of lesser-known, exquisitely appertising soups from all parts of the world, together with many of the author's original recipes. The clearest possible working instructions are given, and in addition to the careful classifications of the various categories there is a detailed index which makes instant reference easy.

I took the easy way out and just scanned these recipes for Cream of Watercress Soup and Cream of Watercress Parmentier from the book. Enjoy:)

Cream of Watercress Parmentier

FYI: A prominent figure in the British watercress industry in the late 1800s and early 1900s was Eliza James, who because of her near monopoly on the London watercress trade was nicknamed “The Watercress Queen”.