Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Potato Soup and two tales

Potato Chowder version 1

When I was five, we lived in a rural part of Massachusetts surrounded by farms.  One afternoon, my sister and I were playing outside when a small, pink pig came toddling down our long dirt road.  My mother had a huge soft spot for pigs (probably inspired by Charlotte's Web) and brought out a bowl of potato soup for the happy little guy.  After an hour or so, a frantic farmer came knocking and we woefully said goodbye to the sweet pig.    

When my mother published her cookbook, my grandmother Ruth's potato chowder recipe had a place of honor.  In her notes, she made no mention of feeding soup to a pig.  Instead, she recounted that the recipe came from Ruth who had actually hated soup as a child.  Ruth's father Abraham wished upon her a husband who loved it.  My grandfather Leo.  Ruth embraced her new married life and learned to love soup- lentil, pea, barley, lima bean and her favorite, potato chowder.

Ruth's potato soup

My great-grandfather Abraham probably saw it as Ruth's duty to make soup for her husband no matter how she felt about the stuff.  The important thing is, she grew to love it and her family appreciated her as a fantastic cook.  In 1967, my mother won over my father with a chicken curry dish from The New York Times Cookbook.  A few months after I met P, I was rolling out dough for calzones and making stir fries.  You know the old adage, "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach."

Potato Chowder version 1

My point is that sometimes cooking does feel like a duty- someone normally has to put food on the table to feed the family.  At times we feel lackluster about the task.  In the drudgery of routine, even the most creative cook can lack inspiration.  When that happens, just remember it's easy to please with simple, fresh ingredients.  Especially when it's a comfort food like potato soup.  Always good to have on hand to feed family, friends, or unexpected fuzzy visitors.  

Potato Soup version 2

Potato Chowder 
This is the recipe that my mother included in her cookbook.  It can of course be adapted many ways.  I did try Ruth's recipe in the photo above but I found it to have too much butter and I prefer my mom's version.  I added the kernels from one fresh corn cob to this recipe, and substituted leek for the onion. You could also add some crispy bacon or pancetta. A sprinkling of paprika on top is authentic to New England kitchens in the 50's and 60's.

1 1/2 cups chopped onion (about 2 onions)
1/2 cup diced celery
1 cup sliced carrots
1 clove crushed garlic
3 tablespoons butter
4 cups diced potatoes (about 3 medium)
2 cups water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon tarragon (I left this out)
1/4 cup chopped parsley (optional)
2 cups milk
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

Saute onion, celery, carrots and garlic in butter until onion is transparent.  Add the other ingredients except for milk and cheddar cheese.  Cook until potatoes are tender (about 10-12 minutes).  Add milk and heat without boiling.  Serve sprinkled with cheddar cheese.


  1. I will never forget that pig! Mom was so sad when he got picked up. Potato chowder is still my favorite...but your chopped veggies are much prettier!

  2. That looks so good! I just had dinner and you made me hungry again! Thanks for the inspiration, now I know what I'm making tomorrow night!!

  3. It's true, whenever I really don't feel like cooking or inspiration has left me, I turn to old simple recipes, much like this soup (gorgeous tale about little piggy!)

  4. I love your stories! And this soup looks fantastic!

  5. ouch say good bye to pig is the most hardest part hehe im just jokin neh :p.
    actually if i have given a chance to eat those potato soup of your it will be another great wish for me coz i really dont know what its taste like. My mom and dad always busy im the only one left here in our house reading, reading till it makes me boring.
    anyway great post for you two thumbs up :)

  6. I felt like i was right there, in the countryside with you, chasing that little piglet and feeding him soup! what a sweet tale... and what a comforting way to "eat" your memories....

  7. I was wondering how I'd end up using a surplus of milk I find myself with this week.

  8. "just remember it's easy to please with simple, fresh ingredients" -- so true. Excellent reminder.

  9. Sometimes the old tried and true recipes are the ones that we need. Beautiful soup.

  10. You're so right: not every meal has to be a 4 star gourmet endeavor. Simple, basic and healthy--I always figure the important thing is you are making it yourself!

  11. You know, I often make soups with potatoes in it, but it is never the star. When I make this I will thing of your grandma making it for her family with love.


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