Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembrance of Things Past

British War Time Poster

"There are very few men and women, I suspect, who cooked and marketed their way through the past war without losing  forever some of the nonchalant extravagence of the Twenties.  They will feel, until their final days on earth, a kind of culinary caution: butter, no matter how unlimited, is a precious substance not lightly to be wasted; meats, too, and eggs, and all the far-brought spices of the world, take on a new significance, having once been so rare.  And that is good, for there can be no more shameful carelessness than with the food we eat for life itself.  When we exist without thought or thanksgiving we are not men, but beasts" 
 --M.F.K. Fisher  How to Cook a Wolf - 1942

When I read MFK Fisher's book How to Cook a Wolf nearly twenty years ago, it was the seed for my belief that "food and fuel" and it's abundance, cannot be taken for granted.  Her book described strategies for feeding the soul through a very tough time in history.  She described, with humour, how to stretch limited and rationed ingredients and still make good food. Also, how to conserve energy while you were cooking, because you didn't know if the power would be cut off, or a blackout would ensue, or your supply of cooking fuel would end before the next ration book would come.  My mother, knew these things intrinsically, because she lived through that war. For me, it has been a learned behaviour to respect food and fuel, because they are a finite resource and shortages still exist today for may people across our globe.

Today is our Day of Remembrance in Canada.  In honour of wars past, and to respect that in war torn countries today, food is a sacred resource, I am preparing a recipe from Fisher's book from the Chapter How to Pray for Peace.  Here is the recipe, as it is written:

Quick Potato Soup

1/4 pound good butter 
4 large potatoes
4 large onions
2 quarts whole milk
salt, pepper, minced parsley (if agreeable)

Melt the butter in a large kettle, or in fireproof casserole in which the soup can be served.  Grate the clean potatoes into it. (I like to leave them unpeeled, but the soup is not so pretty unless chopped fresh herbs, added at the last, change its natural whiteness enough to hide the bits of brown skin....)  Grate the peeled onions into it....or slice them very thin.  Heat the mixture to the bubbling point, stirring well.  Then reduce the heat, and cover closely for about ten minutes or until the vegetables are tender but not mushy, shaking the pan now and then to prevent sticking.  Add more butter (or chicken fat) if it seems wise.  Heat the milk to the boiling pot but not beyond, add slowly to the pot, season and serve.

On the stove

I have edited this recipe for modern times and a smaller batch below:

2 oz of butter
3 large potatoes peeled (the size of a baked potato) or 1 1/2 lbs
1 onion (size of a baseball) about 1/2 lb
1 litre of 1% milk

Use a very heavy bottomed pot with a lid, to prevent burning.  If you have a good non stick pot with a lid, use that.  The grated potatoes thicken the soup so you don't have to use flour.

I suggest that you dice the onions small instead of grating, and then saute first in the butter in the pot until soft. (over medium heat, about 10 minutes.  Turn down the heat if the onions start to brown)  Then, I added the grated potatoes, and stirred,  then covered and cooked, until the potatoes were done.  Because I have reduced the butter, I added  4 oz of water to the potatoes and onions, to ensure they didn't stick to the bottom of the pot while they were cooking. Lower the heat so that they do not burn on the bottom. Taste your potato and onion mixture to make sure the potatoes are cooked and not starchy tasting.  I microwaved the milk until very hot before adding to the cooked mixture. You can heat through the finished soup on your stove top, but do not turn on high and do not walk away.  It cannot boil.  I added about 1 tsp of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  If you like, you can add a powdered chicken or vegetable base to the soup instead of salt.  (1 tbsp)

Recipe Cost  $2.75 for 6 large bowls.  46 cents each. 

Keep the wolf from your door


Vivian said...

Yet another way to conserve in this day and age (having just received my latest HUGH monthly electricity bill) is to do as you have done and build a simple(?) outdoor wood-fired oven. It is sufficient for a tagine (as your header shows), a Dutch oven with a braise of meat, or a loaf or two of great bread and/or pizza. I would love to know of the simple plans to build such a thing (even using local clay from the North Saskatchewan riverbank) without great investment of money or time, using local materials as our forebears did and firing with poplar which is abundant on my land. Lord knows, the pioneers managed it, why can't we?!

Vivian said...

In case folks think of a basic potato soup as peasant fare, think of adding leek and calling it "Vichyssoise". Sometimes its quality is determined only by how smooth the final result is (and its appendage!)

Twyla Campbell said...

Colleen, I love a good homemade soup. This recipe brought back memories of my Mother, a master soup maker, and I would like to think I learned my soup making skills from one of the best. I'm glad you posted this recipe because it shows people how affordable and easy it is to make healthy, hearty and tasty soup for pennies a bowl. Thanks :-)