Soup Is Soul Food

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Autumn is upon us. It heralds the beginning of chilly nights that beg for cuddly sweaters, falling leaves that crackle beneath one’s feet and crisp air that refreshes the lungs. While the onslaught of pumpkin spice can be found everywhere, from Cheerios to candles and even “mac ‘n’ cheese,” there is something else about fall season that warms the soul: a good bowl of soup.

Oxtail soup with slices of bread
(Photo by Raimond Spekking/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Before I begin, let me just address the “mac ‘n’ cheese” issue. For the record, Kraft Company tried pumpkin spice macaroni and cheese in Canada. The combination was a tremendous hit among the Canadians, who are famous for poutine, a cheesy amalgamation of cheddar and French fries. While unable to wrap my head around the thought of cinnamon-flavored cheese and pasta, perhaps someone out there prefers this odd combination. Kraft intends to bring this fall-oriented flavor profile to U.S. markets sometime this year.
And now, back to soup.

A good bowl of soup has the power to warm both heart and body. Mom was a huge soup fan who always loved to make chicken soup as soon as the weather turned cooler, chock full of carrots, onions and celery. Ditalini or tubettini were favorite add-ins, as well as a light dusting of parmesan cheese that melted into stringy, rich goodness atop the hot soup. I looked forward to having “soup for dinner” weekly, especially when I was under the weather. A good bowl of soup is like a warm hug from a beloved relative.

Dad always loved Mom’s soup. When he saw chicken or beef as it defrosted on the kitchen counter, he went to work with a huge smile on his face. He’d often tell his co-workers about the delicious dinner that awaited him that evening. Freddy, who worked the drill press, salivated as Dad told him every delicious detail of Mom’s recipe. He often said to Dad, “Is she making beef soup with the bones? With the bones, man. It’s the best.”
When Dad came home to tell us about Freddy and his reference to beef marrow in the soup, Mom laughed. She often made beef soup from cubes of beef round, but rarely put a bone into the soup. Mom was not a fan of “fat,” regardless of how the marrow might enrich her recipe. From that day on, Freddy’s mantra became a well-loved phrase on soup nights. Dad would murmur, “Is it made with the bones? The bones, man.” Mom would giggle and lovingly tap him away with her wooden spoon.

My husband’s grandmother often used bones to create delicious broths. I can still remember when she took an entire turkey carcass and threw it into a stock pot with a mixture of vegetables known as mirepoix or “the Holy Trinity”. I was repulsed, but she assured me that it would be worth the wait. Hours later, Nettie had the most delicious aromas that wafted through the chilly air as she set steamy bowls of turkey soup with rice before us. She rarely had leftovers.
Nettie also enjoyed beef bones for her cabbage soup. Beef shanks, onions and shredded cabbage found their way into her Dutch oven, along with a can of tomato soup and a tablespoon of bacon fat. By dinnertime, the entire kitchen was warm with the delightful fragrance of cabbage with a hint of bacon. I am a vegan by choice, but the thought of Nettie’s soup still causes me to salivate. The woman was a soup wizard.

Our daughter enjoys a good bowl of soup. Her favorites were always my 16-bean soup and my potato soup with sage pesto. I often got texts from her when she was still at Hicksville High School, with the request that I make pesto potato soup for dinner. This thick broth works best with Yukon Gold potatoes that lend a beautiful golden hue. Once pureed, the soup is silky and comforting as it easily glides down the palate. The touch of sage pesto is a finishing touch that should never be omitted, as it enhances the flavor profile tremendously.

Since Hubby is the only meat-eater in our home, soups now have a focus on vegetables and fiber. Over the next few weeks, lentil soup will be on the menu, as well as a vegetable congee that I created as a tribute to a friend’s former restaurant. Tonight’s dinner is a rich potato leek soup that will be pureed to a lustrous finish. I just grabbed the freshly picked tomatoes that roasted in the oven, which will be made into a hearty tomato soup this weekend to accompany grilled vegan cheese sandwiches.
The delights of soup season are endless. Creating soup is a joy as canned soup cannot compare to the subtle nuances of flavor in homemade meals. As Laurie Colwin mused, “To feel safe and warm on a cold wet night, all you really need is soup.” Or Louis P. De Gouy, who mentioned that “Soup is the song of the hearth…and the home.” Pumpkin, squash, broccoli or beef, soups are wonderful foods to heal the soul. Happy soup season.

Patty Servidio is an Anton Media Group columnist.

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