By Sarah Crowley Chestnut
Soup and I go way back. On fall nights during high school, when I returned home at dinner time after volleyball practice, the welcoming aroma of my mother’s chicken noodle or her beef stew met me on the short, brick walk way to our front steps. And there were biscuits on the table, too, nestled in a basket, tucked in with a cloth napkin to keep them warm.
In my second year of college I had mono for a month, and my mother brought me her chicken noodle in a quart-sized mason jar when she and my father were in town on business. I knew that I was loved.
In the years after college when I lived in Prague, teaching English to students bright as a lit wick, I taught myself how to make a creamy potato soup, studded with the bright half-circles of carrots I bought at the vegetable market in the small plaza at the mouth of the metro. There was celery, too, and white wine. I learned how to make a roux.
One afternoon a Czech co-worker took me on a walk through the heart of the old town, and we stopped “for refreshment” in a small tavern, tucked (like those warm biscuits), in a thick medieval wall. We sat at a table that was small and round. The waiter brought us a rendition of borscht that seared itself into my memory. It was chunky: beets, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes. There was sausage that made it smokey. And the pigment of the broth!
During my years at Regent College I ate soup every Tuesday, with the rest of the school, from a white bowl balanced on my knees, and a Portuguese bun spread with peanut butter and raspberry jam leaving a dusting of flour over everything. In time, I was the one who made that Tuesday soup with the help of many hands. I learned to extract garlic from its skin properly: trim the root end, set it on your board, lay the flat of your knife on the cloves and let the heel of our hand fall hard on the smooth steel. Pluck the crushed clove from its husk. Repeat. There was roasted butternut squash. There was vegetable barley. During Lent, even nettle and potato to remind us of the sting of thorns.
It is fall—deep fall—in New England; the air snaps hungry jaws and what it wants is soup. At L’Abri we make soup by the gallons: Ben’s Corn Chowder, Mary Frances’s Tortellini Spinach, Liz’s Potato Leek. Or this past Monday, because it was Halloween, my Pumpkin Apple Autumn Gold. I am told there was always soup at the Schaeffer’s table. And when I was a Helper here in Southborough, trying to recreate that Prague borscht from my tastebud’s memory, word got back to me that Joe Morrell had told Joshua, “Your wife understands soup.” I really can’t think of a better compliment one could pay me. It amounts to this: soup is as simple as sunbeams, and as complex as the light they make.
So join us at the table. Pumpkin Apple Autumn Gold is hot, and warm biscuits are tucked and waiting.
Recommended Reading and Cooking:
The Supper of the Lamb, Robert Farrar Capon (especially the chapter, “Living Water”)
Twelve Months of Monastery Soup, Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila Latourrette
The Moosewood Cookbooks—any of them—for great vegetarian soup recipes.
Pumpkin Apple Autumn Gold (adapted from Moosewood Cooks for a Crowd)
This recipe makes 25 12-oz. Servings. Invite your neighbors over and plan to freeze some, too. Or halve the recipe.
16 cups / 7 lbs Cooked pulp of pumpkin or other winter squash (I used a mixture of sugar pie pumpkin, kabocha and butternut squash)
10 cups / 2 lbs.8oz. Onions, chopped
½ cup Olive oil
1 tsp Dried thyme
3 TBS Fresh sage, chopped (optional)
1tsp Ground nutmeg
1-2 tsp Ground cinnamon
1 thumb-size piece Fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped (optional)
8 Bay leaves
2 generous pinches Kosher salt
Several cranks Fresh ground pepper
4 cups / 1 lb. 4 oz. Carrots, chopped
6-8 cups / 2 lbs. Celery, chopped
1 cup White wine (optional)
3 qts. Chicken or vegetable stock
1 qt. Apple juice
1 qt. Orange juice
more salt and pepper to taste
Plain yogurt and toasted pumpkin seeds to garnish
- Halve and seed the pumpkin/squash, rub lightly with olive oil and bake, covered with foil, at 400F for about an hour, or until very soft. Set aside and then scrape out the pulp when it is cool enough to handle. Meanwhile…
- Heat oil in a large pot, add onions, herbs, spices, salt, pepper and bay leaves and saute until onions begin to soften.
- Add the carrots, celery and white wine, stir and cover, cooking on medium heat for 10-15 minutes. Stir occasionally.
- Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, until the vegetables are very soft. Remove the bay leaves as best as you can.
- In a blender, puree the squash, juices and rest of the soup in batches until smooth. Taste for salt and pepper and season to taste. Reheat gently.
- Garnish with a swirl of yogurt and a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds.