I never tire of the SILVER PALATE cookbook. In fact, I recently saw a perfect hardback copy at a used bookstore and snatched it up to put away for when my paperback copy -almost 30 years old-dies. Or for when one of my children or good friends loves something I’ve made and I want to hand them their own copy. My bent-paged, tattered covered, stained, smeared, and spilled-upon copy is one of the loves on my cookbook shelf. Within are notes, memories of special times, thoughts, re-writes (heavier salt back then and more ingredients available now), dreams, and just plain stuff that is still fun to look at and/or cook. Written back when women were just seriously beginning to need a reason to not cook (actually that’s when the shop hit it big in NY), it hit the market with a big keBANG and, I think, opened up a whole world to a whole lotta people. Funny, huh?
Think of it. My cookbookshelf before 1980. Julia. James. Betty Crocker. Joy. Galloping Gourmet. I think there were Reader’s Digest and Good Housekeeping books my mom threw in when I got married. I had a recipe box with 4×6 cards and I was a lot better off than many friends who had 3×5 cards. GOURMET. BON APPETIT. I had those. When I could afford them.
People cooked from newspapers and church cookbooks. A lot. More often, people cooked from scraps of paper quickly scribbled while you visited someone else and wanted a copy of a recipe they had made. Or, as with my Aunt Marie (Dad’s sister), you sat and wrote recipes while she talked. That’s how I got my grandma’s pound cake recipe. I never met my grandma; she died about 1938. Thank God for my Aunt Marie’s memory. Thank God for my mom’s memory because the imprints in my mind of watching her cook were of the times she cooked out of her head. Were there copy machines? Sure, but only in offices or libraries. And, if you did copy something onto that filmed sort of paper, what did you do with that piece of paper? If you were a very organized person or a secretary by profession, you might have punched them and put them in a 3-ring binder with your other typed recipes. Big if. I met one person like that in my life. And I cooked. People didn’t really have typewriters until (or if) they went to college, and those were wretched machines. If you wanted to type seriously you used the IBM at work after hours. If, by chance, you worked.
I thought I had truly made it to heaven food-wise when I made Sheila Lukins’ Cream of Asparagus Soup out of SILVER PALATE. One of the first times, it was the day before my daughter Sarah’s baptism (86) and I was cooking for a big celebration. My sister Helen, who flew in for the occasion, was serving as both sous chef and dish washer. Not for the first or last time. It wasn’t just a celebration of Sarah and her blessed baptism in Spokane, Washington, but it was also a celebration at having another live child. In 1978, God was good indeed and we had our first lovely boy, Sean. In 1979, I had had a miscarriage. In 1982, our daughter Elizabeth died—–SIDS–on July 20. In March of 1984, our son Ryan was stillborn. 9 pounds 2 ounces. Sarah, an adopted child, was one who might escape our run of horrific luck and live. Our families came. We cooked. We laughed. We bought a beautiful white dress and shoes. We celebrated. We went to church and laughed. Came home and ate. And what we ate was from the SILVER PALATE COOKBOOK! Cream of Asparagus Soup. Chicken Marabella. Things that later became very famous, indeed.
And Sarah lived.
Over the interim years, I’ve made that soup many times in many variations. I’ve switched the veg to broccoli and added parmesan. I’ve made it cold and I’ve made it hot. It’s been in paper bowls and china bowls. It’s been a starter and it’s been a main course. It’s been cooked for invalids and small children who don’t like vegetables, but who will eat this soup. This year, it’s in sweet, tiny cream soup bowls Dave bought me for our 36th wedding anniversary last week; he had to buy them used. (Below @ Margarita at Pine Creek dinner to celebrate!)
I’m not sure many china manufacturers make them any more. A gift for someone who loves to make first course soups, something that most people gave up doing before they were born. But I like a soup to start. I like the feeling of seeing that little bowl on the table and thinking, “Something besides salad!” Or, “How warm!” Or, “How fun!” Or, “What will it be??” It’s a smooth and easy start for a meal and can be just as veggie as salad. People feel very special when you make them a first course soup.
Our friends Susan and Charles came to dinner last weekend; I made nicoise. (Above at their son’s wedding-Charles is hidden)
Dave grilled tuna for it. I love nicoise. So does my sister. So does Sue. So does Dave. I like it with salmon and asparagus, too. But I like to best with ahi. I’m so spoiled. I eat it just as easily with canned tuna, which I did in France with my sister. For a first course. Before a huge plate of roasted chicken. With sweet, ceramic, cold pitchers of white wine. Ah, France.
But, what for a first course? I kept having asparagus soup running through my head. For whatever reason, I wasn’t thinking SILVER PALATE. I’ve made this so many times that I had to be in the middle of making it, thinking of where it came from, to remember to grab SILVER PALATE and look to see if there really was a recipe for this soup! It had become my own. I barely thought about its provenance. But the more I cooked, the more I remembered… and pretty soon the book was on the counter and I was back all those years cooking for Sarah. Cooking for Elizabeth, for whom I never cooked (though I cooked, ate, and nursed her), the anniversary of whose death is today. Cooking for my family; being grateful for not only Sarah’s baptism, but for my own. Thanks to Tom Trinidad, I now know that.
And, of course, the soup isn’t the same soup as in 1986. I have more experience in the kitchen, more experience with soup (one of my favorite things to cook), and more experience dealing with the grief of loss and the joy of addition. By now, I grow lots more herbs and use them differently, though I certainly grew herbs in the 70’s and 80’s when I couldn’t get them in stores like now. (If you want to pay 4 bucks.)
I know now how to get canned broth to taste better; I’ve always made homemade broth, but don’t feel too bad anymore if I don’t. I now know what a few drops of Tabasco can accomplish and that there is no substitute for onions, carrots and celery. I know now you needn’t add a ton of whole cream, but can throw on a “T”-tiny (as Susan says) spoonful of sour cream and a few chopped herbs and locate a whole nother planet in that bowl.
Thanks, God, for the new kid on the block. For what it taught me about making soup. For the memory that impressed itself over and over as I recreated this food for more people I love.
Alyce’s Asparagus Soup
via SILVER PALATE and a few years
1 1/2 medium onions, chopped coarsely
1 shallot, ditto
2T butter or olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1 large garlic clove, minced
6T fresh tarragon (or 2t dry), divided
1/4 c fresh parsley, chopped
2# asparagus, chopped, woody ends in garbage
1 1/2-2 quarts chicken broth, unsalted
6 baby carrots or 3 regular carrots
1 stalk celery with leaves
4-6 drops Tabasco
1/4 c low-fat sour cream
In a 4 or 6qt stockpot, heat butter or oil over medium-low, and add chopped onions and shallot. Saute about 10 minutes and then add garlic. Cook another 5 minute or until veg are very soft. Add salt, pepper, tarragon, parsley, and asparagus and let flavors marry by cooking a minute or two or three, stirring and smelling as you go. Oh, tarragon.
Pour in 1 1/2 qts chicken stock and add the carrots and celery. Drop in the Tabasco. Carefully. Cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 40 minutes or so until all the veg are very tender indeed. As it cooks, add more broth if it seems too thick. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Carefully puree in batches in blender (hold down top with a big towel) or in the food processor.
Remove to pan and serve hot or let cool and chill to serve cold. Top with a spoonful of sour cream and a sprinkle (not too much) of tarragon and a grate or two of fresh lemon rind.
Thank God for asparagus soup.
Sing a new song,
Two-Dog Kitchen and New from around the ‘Hood
Including a “New Kid on the Block” in 2010
Skippito joins the fray. He belongs to Mary Pat, but will be our cat when she travels. I guess he’s our 1/3 cat.
Outside with next-door neighbor and herder, Moss.
Moss loves to try and herd cats.
He doesn’t know you can’t.
Trying. Never giving up. It’s a good thing.