I spent a good deal of my life working for cash and life fulfillment as 1. a librarian and 2. a church music director. (I taught piano, too, on the side.) Both jobs, and I sometimes held them at the same time to make ends meet, helped fuel my love of cooking because libraries have cookbooks and church choirs love to eat.
For years I worked for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, some years in the national office in Washington, D.C. and other years at Woodlawn Plantation/Pope-Leighey House in Mt. Vernon, Virginia. (In fact I knew Marjorie Leighey, who lived in her house at the time.) Photo, below and left, courtesy Woodlawn Plantation–please visit soon or in the spring!
I schlepped books and/or photographs and slides in both spots. I’ll be honest and say that I quit for one of those years and worked as the photographic librarian for the American Institute of Architects, which was a sad mistake indeed as I loved old buildings, not new ones. At the NT office downtown, I worked in both the book and the photograph libraries and at Woodlawn, I ran the bookstore. The entire experience was such an education for a kid from the Chicago suburbs; I can’t begin to tell you. I had no idea east coast folks were so poorly educated that they had little knowledge about any places west of Pennsylvania, for instance. Or that they didn’t talk in elevators. My idea of far away was Wisconsin Dells and Chicago girls talk everywhere, as you could guess. From one place or the other, I brought home a cookbook –as I do from nearly everywhere –called THE EASTERN JUNIOR LEAGUE COOKBOOK, edited by the late Ann Seranne. While you might not recognize the name of that editor, she was a well-known and accomplished food writer of the time and this book was published almost at the end of her career. In said book was a recipe for potato soup called
A Cold Winter’s Day Potato Soup
from THE JUNIOR LEAGUE OF THE NORTH SHORE, LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK.
Now what I really want to know is: WHO WROTE THAT RECIPE? WHY IS THERE NO WOMAN’S NAME THERE??? (Or man’s, ok; I’ll be inclusive.) That’s the kind of cookbooks we had then. Ones with recipes and no writers. (This still happens.)
I didn’t know from Long Island. I knew Lake Michigan. Lake Superior. Sault Ste. Marie. But I knew I wanted potato soup. I started making this soup before my youngest daughter was born in ’87. The notes in the book show me that. What I don’t know is if I made it earlier.
Over the years, I’ve made it every single St. Patrick’s Day. Anyone who’s been here for dinner on that night knows this soup and the Irish soda bread that goes with it. I made it because corned beef and cabbage just never felt very Irish to me; potato soup did. I’ve been to Ireland several times and never saw corned beef on a menu anywhere. Irish cookbooks might include a recipe with a note that no one really eats it. It’s often considered sort of an American-Irish dinner. Old blog readers remember this tale.
When I mentioned something about corned beef and cabbage to my two new Irish flatmates, one of them pounced. “That’s American shite,” he said. “No one eats that.” I liked the other flatmate better.
I follow the Long Island recipe because it’s good; there’s no need to change it around or fuss with it. Leave well enough alone. By the way, these days I know where Long Island is; I’ve even been there.
But this last month, I kept thinking of a soup that blended potatoes and cabbage–mean and lean, with a decadent grace note of … bacon. Sour cream. Which are just the garnishes on…you guessed it:
A Cold Winter’s Day Potato Soup
I fiddled around with it and one recent cold night when the wind whipped and the trees howled in unhappy response, I made the soup you see here. Dave built a roaring fire and I’m not sure any soup has ever warmed us the way this one did. Our world–not just the U.S.– feels crazy and somewhat frightening all the time now.
I think soup on the stove helps. I know eating together does. Try this:
POTATO, LEEK, AND CABBAGE SOUP WITH BACON AND SOUR CREAM
I like this soup pureed. If you’d like it chunky, skip that step. For a vegetarian or vegan version, skip bacon and increase the olive oil to 1/4 cup; replace chicken broth with vegetable broth. For a vegan version, leave out the sour cream, too; you might replace it with grated vegan cheese or toasted chopped nuts.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 slices bacon, diced or can sub 1/3 pound ham, diced
- 4 leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced
- 1/2 large yellow onion, diced
- 1 each, diced: large peeled carrot, stalk celery, medium trimmed and peeled turnip, medium trimmed and peeled parsnip
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 8 cups chicken broth, low sodium
- 2 cups water
- 3 medium potatoes, peeled, and cubed
- 2 cups chopped cabbage
- Hot sauce–a few drops, optional
- 1 cup sour cream, optional, for garnish
- Fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish
- In a large, heavy soup pot, heat olive oil for one minute over medium high heat and add chopped bacon. Cook until browned, stirring. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate and pour off all but 3 tablespoons fat. Chop and set bacon aside. Cook the leeks, onions, carrot, celery, turnip, and parsley in the bacon fat, stirring, until soft. Add garlic. Season with salt, pepper, thyme, and bay leaf. Add white wine and let cook down a few minutes until evaporated. Pour in broth and water; raise heat and bring to a boil. Add potatoes and cabbage; reduce heat and let simmer until all vegetables are tender. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding hot sauce if desired. Puree with hand-held blender or in batches in food process or blender. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot garnished with sour cream, if desired, parsley, and reserved cooked, chopped bacon. Whoever gets the bay leaf does the dishes.
Cook a new soup and stay warm. Thanks for reading here and for spending more time at the table,