Wednesday, October 11, 2006
We can tell fall is in the air from three things: falling gas prices, double-digit temperatures and the internal urges to consume hot soup. OK, maybe the last one is my personal indication of the changing seasons, but I know that everyone, at one time or another, enjoys a steaming bowl of soup.
When I was growing up, my favorite kind of soup was good ol' vegetable soup, made from a 1930s depression-era recipe. It had some interesting twists, like chopped lettuce and turnips and was full of flavor and veggies.
On my childhood farm in Montana, we had a big garden every summer with carrots and cucumbers my mom pickled with onions and dill, green beans that wound their vines around tall wooden stakes in the corner and hand-sized watermelons.
Despite the 7-foot tall fences, deer usually ate half of everything we grew.
"The fence is not working," I announced to my dad one morning after I had gone out to pick dill and found soft deer prints in the garden.
"Let's try something else," he said, sliding open a drawer in the kitchen. He handed me a roll of tin foil, and I followed him out to the garden. The sun was just starting to warm the soil, so I slipped my sandals off as we twisted tin foil onto the thin branches of the trees and posts of the fence. This technique didn't work any better than the fence, but my dad and I had some good father-daughter bonding time.
My favorite time in the garden was right after we had watered it, when the black dirt was soft and cool, and the smell of the vegetables was pungent. We crawled on hands and knees, searching for weeds, sometimes stealing a too-small carrot to munch in between rows.
"Stop eating the carrots!" my mom would say. "They aren't ready to pick yet!" So then, my siblings and I would go for the green, crunchy peas. After shucking peas for three days straight, though, we were sick of them. (Green thumbs aren't just an abstract idea.)
Most of the summer's fresh vegetables would end up in Ziploc bags in the deep freezer underneath the stairs. Summertime was for crispy salads and pickles, not hot soup. But as soon as the cold came and my dad started stacking fireplace logs by the front door, we lugged bag after bag of peas, carrots and tomatoes, and poured them all into a boiling pot of chicken stock and garlic. Somehow, like a magic brew, the flavors from the summertime, heightened by their chilly exile and mixed in with the warmth of the stock created a little taste of vegetable heaven.
The whole process of making vegetable soup, if you want to do it really well, is quite an undertaking. It requires a series of stripping, peeling and rinsing rituals. Carrots are the worst—one chop that's too brisk, and the slices fly off the counter. Onions are no better, unless you use a little tip I got from my grandmother: Peel and chop onions submerged in a bowl of water. (The onion, that is, not you.) This prevents eyes from tearing. No one wants to see a cook crying over his or her own food, for goodness sake.
So, when the forecast finally calls for cold days, consider making a big pot of vegetable soup. My mom always said soup tastes better after it's been in the fridge for a day, and it's true. A reheated pot of soup is extra flavorful.
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