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Vintage recipes can tell a tale


Several years ago, a reader sent me a recipe, a gem of a vintage soup that calls for 2 quarts of buttermilk and a bottle of Coca-Cola, along with beet juice, sour cream and French's mustard. To this foundation the author of the recipe, Mrs. W. Abbott Robertson Jr., suggests adding a quarter cup each of cooked and diced chicken, veal, beef, corned beef, tongue, ham, frankfurter, hard-cooked eggs, diced cucumbers, diced cooked beets, minced green onions and either chopped parsley or dill.

The soup is served chilled and is even better, we are told, the day after it is made than it is fresh.

The recipe is from 1958, when it was published in "Golden Gate Gourmet" (Norse Publishing Co., edited by Roxana D. Robertson). Most of the recipes come from "Bay Area hostesses," along with a handful from consulates and a few dozen from San Francisco restaurant chefs. The late, famed newspaper columnist Herb Caen wrote the introduction.

I came across this recipe as I meandered through my recipe archives, searching for a favorite soup. During such searches, I can easily be sidetracked as I love perusing vintage recipes and cookbooks. They tell such an intriguing story beyond their specific scope, tales that reveal how people lived, how women were treated, how they thought -#8212; or didn't think -#8212; about food and all manner of similar tell-tale details that almost always make me happy that I live now and not at some other time in history that we inevitably romanticize.

"Mad Men" and "Downton Abbey," for example, may be nearly addictively engaging, but that doesn't mean that we want to go back in time. Sometimes I do wish we all still dressed nicely when we went out into the commons and for dinner but, otherwise, I'm not nostalgic for the days when it was not unusual for Coca-Cola, Cheese Whiz and such to appear in the ingredient lists of even the most prestigious recipes.

For more winter soups from the Seasonal Pantry archives, visit "Eat This Now" at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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I set out to make this soup in a slow cooker and then realized it would be much better made in a pressure cooker, which is what I use to prepare most of my winter soups. From start to finish, it took me under 30 minutes to have a ready-to-eat soup. The soup is elegant enough to serve at a dinner party but simple enough for a weeknight dinner, too.

<strong>Squash and Sweet Potato Soup</strong>

<em> Makes 8 to 10 servings</em>

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large or 2 small shallots, minced

2 small carrots, peeled and chopped

1 small jalape? or serrano, seeded and minced

1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced

3 garlic cloves, minced

-#8212; Kosher salt

1 small Butternut squash, peeled, seeded and sliced or chopped (about 4 cups worth)

1 medium (8 ounces) sweet potato, peeled and sliced or chopped

1 small potato, such as German Butterball, peeled and sliced or chopped

2 cups homemade chicken or vegetable stock

1/2 teaspoon white peppercorns

-#8212; Garnishes of choice (see Suggestions below)

Pour the olive oil into a pressure cooker set over medium heat, add the shallots, carrots and jalape? or serrano and saute until soft and fragrant, about 8 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic, saute 2 minutes more and season with salt.

Add the squash, sweet potato and potato, stir and pour in the chicken or vegetable stock, along with 2 cups of water. Add the peppercorns, increase the heat to high and when the liquid boils, lock the lid into place.

Cook at high pressure for 5 minutes, turn off the heat and use the steam-release method to unlock the lid.

Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes.

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup thoroughly, so it is smooth, with a creamy texture. Although straining the soup is optional, it is a good idea to do so to remove ginger fibers and the peppercorns.

Ladle the strained puree into soup plates, top with your preferred garnishes and serve.

Garnish suggestions:

Scatter a teaspoon of homemade or commercial gomashio (a mixture of toasted seaweed, sesame seeds and salt) over the soup just before serving.

Add a generous spoonful of whole-milk yogurt and a second spoonful of fruit chutney just before serving.

Combine toasted walnuts with chopped Italian parsley, grated dry Jack or similar cheese and a splash of olive oil; scatter over the soup just before serving.

Top with creme fraiche seasoned with freshly grated nutmeg, kosher salt and a squeeze of lime juice and follow up with chopped fresh cilantro leaves. For a spicier soup, add chipotle powder to taste, along with the nutmeg.

Scatter crisp crumbled bacon and toasted walnuts on the soup immediately before serving.

Top the soup with your favorite homemade or commercial tapenade.

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Here's something you can and probably should prepare in a slow cooker. The soup is rustic, humble and absolutely delicious, though it really needs some good homemade cornbread served alongside, with plenty of butter. The soup is hearty enough to be a main course. I like to have creamy cole slaw on the table, too.

<strong>Southern Greens, Potatoes and Ham Hock Soup</strong>

<em> Makes 8 servings</em>

3 ham hocks, split

1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped

-#8212; Boiling water

2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into ?-inch cubes

3 to 4 bunches mustard greens, rinsed, trimmed and cut into 2-inch wide cross-wise strips

-#8212; Black pepper in a mill

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup Tabasco sauce

Put the ham hocks and onion in a standard-sized slow cooker or crockpot, cover with boiling water and cook on low overnight or for about 8 to 10 hours, until the meat is nearly falling-off-the-bone tender.

About 2 hours before you wish to eat, add the potatoes to the pot and cook for 1 hour. Add the mustard greens (they will wilt quickly) and cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Add additional boiling water if needed.

Use tongs to transfer the ham hocks to a work surface to cool. Remove the meat from the bones, chop and return to the cooker. Taste, correct for salt if needed and season generously with black pepper.

Combine the vinegar and Tabasco sauce in a small bowl.

To serve, ladle soup into soup plates or bowls and top with a small drizzle of the Tabasco mixture. Serve immediately, with the Tabasco mixture alongside.