the food of Christmas

Tonight I’m going to make winter soup.

There’s nothing particularly special about it; to the unfamiliar eye, it’s just your standard beef-and-vegetables deal. But it’s not a beef-and-vegetable soup; it’s winter soup. It’s something my mother has made for as long as I can remember, and it is one of the infallible markers of the season in my mind, along with things made with wild rice. (Which is in the other soup.)

I’m going to try to make a series of posts this month about my personal Christmas traditions and where they come from. Christmas dinner itself will get its own post, I imagine, but since tonight there will be winter soup, it seemed a good way to start.

Funny story: the first time I made the soup for myself, I assembled the requisite ingredients, chopped the things that needed to be chopped, browned the things that needed to be browned, chucked it all in a pot, and thought, it just doesn’t look right. Because that happens, you know; it’s never the same when you do it yourself, never quite like how Mom made it. But I went ahead and put it on to simmer and wandered off, and an hour later I came back and there was winter soup in the pot.

Soups are like alchemy, as far as I’m concerned. They magically stop being their ingredients and become something else while you’re not looking.

Just as soon as I finish tidying this place up, we’ll get started on the alchemy.

0 Responses to “the food of Christmas”

  1. gollumgollum

    Yeah, my potatobaconcheese soup (also known as my potato goop) has this odd and sudden tipping point where it goes from a bunch of stuff in the pot to goop. It’s a little disconcerting, as i’ve been watching it the whole damn time and yet still have never figured out exactly how that happens.

    • arielstarshadow

      Oh man – I would LOVE that recipe. I’ve bought Safeway’s potato, cheese and bacon soup, but making my own would be preferred.

      • gollumgollum

        Potato Goop (nom nom nom)
        (originally from Taste of Home’s Healthy Cooking magazine, somewhat modified, towards the more healthy direction)

        3 medium red potatoes
        5 (low sodium) bacon strips, diced
        1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
        7 oz (1/2 can) reduced-sodium (reduced fat) chicken broth
        2 garlic cloves, minced
        1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
        1/4 teaspoon salt
        1/4 teaspoon pepper
        1/2 to 2 teaspoons of your favorite hot pepper sauce*
        2 cups milk
        1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

        1. Scrub and pierce potatoes; microwave for 8 minutes, turning over halfway. (I actually find 8 minutes to be a little long; YMMV.)

        2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. With a slotted spoon, remove the bacon to paper towels.

        3. Stir 1/4 cup flour into the drippings until you have a ball of thick, sticky dough. (You may need to start adding the broth early, depending on how your drippings turn out; alternately, you may have a liquidy goo, which is also okay.) Add the chicken broth, stirring it in slowly and allowing the sauce to thicken as you go. There’s no good way to explain this; just watch it and make sure you don’t burn anything. Thicker is better at this point; i usually end up with a very doughy, mashed-potatoey sort of goop right about now. At this point, add your garlic, basil, salt, pepper and hot pepper sauce and work them into your doughy goop. Turn the heat up just a bit and give your goop a couple of minutes to thicken. Be careful at this point to not burn it.

        4. Whisk the remaining flour with your milk until it’s smooth; add to the pan and mix. Bring to a boil (or not; i don’t know that i ever have yet); give it a couple more minutes to thicken up.

        5. (Peel and) cube potatoes; add to goop. Add bacon. Cook and stir until heated through. Add cheese and stir just until cheese is melted. Garnish with more cheese or bacon, if you’d like. Serve hot.


        *I use 2 teaspoons Tiger sauce, which is not super spicy for a hot sauce, but has a good flavor.

  2. arielstarshadow

    I don’t suppose you’d be willing to share the recipe? I made a vegetable soup, but wasn’t quite satisfied with it.

  3. orientalflower

    I love soup recipes!

  4. thespisgeoff

    I think it’s been nine years since I’ve had your winter soup, but I can still taste it. (I can’t honestly remember if you were in town when they made it, or if Ad and Khet just needed it one day and I got lucky.)

  5. amysisson

    What’s funny is that I don’t like eating soup particularly, but I really like making it! So I completely agree about the alchemy.

    My most successful soup, according to my husband, is chicken-soup-from-his-mom’s-turkey-soup-recipe. I make a whole chicken in the slow cooker one day, and the next day have two pots on the stove: one for the chicken soup (using the nice bits of meat left), and one for chicken stock (using everything else from the chicken).

    I think the recipe is slightly unusual for turkey or chicken soup in that it has lentils, split peas, and barley in it. Plus a tablespoon of marmite, but I’m convinced that’s just because they like things salty.

  6. lordlothair

    My family, as I was growing up would always get together for the holidays and one of the staples of that was Oma’s noodles. After she died my mother attempted to recreate that for my father and I… with horrid results. The problem that she found was that Oma had learned to make noodles from her mother, who was taught by her mother, etc, etc… none of them had ever written it down. Which left my mother with the task of attempting to replicate a process that she had only seen a few times (as Oma would smack people with spoons if they entered her kitchen near the holidays). I am sure that the noodles were turning out just fine, and were quite delicious… but they weren’t Oma’s Noodles anymore, so it just wasn’t the same. My mother finally gave up on the attempt and has gone back to her usual holiday fare. My father and I both appreciated the attempt, but sometimes you just can’t have what you used to.

    • Marie Brennan

      Yeah, I’ve heard plenty of stories about old recipes that include no measurements (or measurements like “a good bit of flour”), or which were designed for wood-burning ovens, or whatever.

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