Sauce for Thought: Coming in From the Cold – An Exploration of Soup
by Alice DeLuca
We’re turning down the new thermostat daily, stubbornly staving off the inevitable start-up of the furnace for the coming home-heating season. It’s the hot soup season and the knitting season also, so there are reasons to celebrate. Animals are busy storing everything they can get their paws on, for a long winter of curled up dreaming. I picture them underground and know why some people covet their fur coats. My coat of choice is made from the knitted wool of sheep, and to the sheep I am grateful.
Our new Nest thermostat is “smart” in that it knows what we are doing, but we maintain the illusion of control by tweaking it via tablet technology, even from remote locations. The designers thought of everything, down to the specially designed stickers for labeling the wires during installation. We’re hoping we won’t have to fool this new thermostat in to turning on when the temperature dives like a submarine, the first week of January; nor will we be tempted to put a space heater under it to keep it warm so it won’t activate the furnace, as my father used to do with his mercury-switch driven thermostat from those days.
When the temperature drops, the Canada geese start making tracks. Often they are flying south, but sometimes they appear to be confused and fly east or north, which is because some of them winter-over. The V-formations of confused geese overhead is another clear indication that the time has come to consider hot soup.
The hornets are hungry, and they bother us when we crush apples or grapes to make cider and wine, or when we stuff sausage casings in preparation for smoking. They push in on the process like cats at the computer keyboard, buzzing up against our hands to get a taste of juice or meat. The hornets are hungry for our food, and we are hungry for soup.
When it comes to cooking soup, your choices are to boil something on top of the stove, rumbling away for hours, lid on or off; to pressure-cook the soup on top of the stove (especially useful at high altitudes); to bake a casserole of soup in the oven (serendipitously heating the kitchen); to use a slow cooker or Crockpot; to microwave a covered dish for a short time yielding a fast soup but very little aroma or heat for the house; or to hang a pot over an open fire on the hearth.
From the point of view of visual aesthetics only, the pot of soup hanging over the hearth is the most attractive. The look alone is warming, but the cook who has participated in this ritual knows the sooty, backbreaking truth about keeping the embers burning. (To see a video of hearth cookery, go to Heart to Hearth Cookery, at about 2 minutes in to the video.)
To add an olfactory aesthetic to soup production really requires boiling or baking the soup. All the other methods hide the aromas. If the noise of soup-making is what signals the change of seasons for you, then the blub-blub-blub of simmering soup is probably the way to go. Lastly, the ding of a microwave may ring your bell if you have a true soup emergency.
I will share my favorite soups for the fall season, and recommend the cookbooks and sites from which they come.
Emeril’s Chuckwagon Chili — with fresh fennel substituted for the celery, Green’s Dubbel Dark beer, and 1 pound of dried small red beans (frijoles rojos pequeños), soaked and cooked, substituted for half of the beef to add their creamy texture and reduce the amount of meat required
Sesame-Crusted Tofu with Quick Microwave Curried Carrot Soup using my go-to favorite flavor enhancer of richly-flavored currant jelly, easily adapted for vegetarians and ready in a ½ hour for soup emergencies.