Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Soup of the evening

Eastside Road, December 22, 2009—
WHO CAN SAY WHEN he first read Lewis Carroll? I'm sure it was before I was ten years old, probably before I was eight. And the passage that interested me the most intensely, moved me the most profoundly, was that concerning the mock turtle soup, with Tenniel's mysterious illustration of the beast who told Alice and the Gryphon "in a deep, hollow tone: ‘sit down, both of you, and don’t speak a word till I’ve finished.’"

I don't know when it was explained to me that mock-turtle soup is made of veal stock, hence the calf's head in Tenniel's illustration. Certainly we never had turtle soup when I was a boy, mock or otherwise; I'm not sure I ever have tasted it. It fascinated me, later, when sophistication began to charm me, and I read somewhere that one splashed a bit of sherry into the soup while cooking it.

We did have soup, though; never turtle soup, and certainly never with sherry in it. We had mostly tomato soup, sometimes home-made, just as often out of a can. Later, when I lived in town with my grandparents, we had all kinds of soups, nearly always home-made. Gram was a deft hand with the stock dishes of her Missouri childhood; the weekly chicken always gave us a pot of stock when most of its flesh was picked away. (Earlier, when I was a very little boy, I was terrified when occasionally she soldiered out into the back yard, grabbed a handy Rhode Island Red, and wrung its neck.)

We do love our soup around here, and particularly on cold damp gloomy days. Tonight it came not from a can but a box: red pepper soup from Trader Joe. It's organic, so that takes some of the sting out of eating from a box. Lindsey didn't add a thing. You could float a bit of finishing olive oil on it, or even a drizzle of crème fraîche — but it's perfectly okay as it is. With it, a slab of TJ's naan, its garlic a little bitter, I thought; afterward, the green salad.
Cheap Montepulciano d'Abruzzo

The Mock Turtle's song, parodying a popular song of the day:

Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Beau - ootiful Soo - oop!
Beau - ootiful Soo - oop!
Soo - oop of the e - e - evening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup!


Daniel Wolf said...

Isn't it sometimes startling how food habits change. In 19th century America turtle was a standard offering and passenger pigeons provided the standard cooking fat until they were hunted to extinction. My grandmother's apple pie used lard, my mother's shortening, and if I were to make an apple pie, I suppose it would be butter. And then I remember as a kid in southern California that some commerical fruits, persimmons, minneolas and kumquats especially, were not big orchard fruit but were collected from private backyard gardens by grocers with seasonal routes.

Charles Shere said...

Lindsey's book — and she's the expert — calls for salted butter, unsalted butter, and "vegetable shortening." But I feel very strongly that it all depends on what kind of pie you're making; and I feel very strongly that you shouldn't shortchange lard. A mince pie, for example, absolutely requires a lard crust. I think an apple pie would profit from it. Butter — oh, dear Burrus, there are so many different butters.
Your point on backyard garden fruits surprises me a little. Persimmons are fugitive, of course; I can imagine that part of your comment. But Minneolas? Now they're commercial, usually dry, quite unpleasant.