Soup’s On

A Hot Bowl is the Perfect Cure for Winter’s Frosty Bite

By Nancy Luse | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 01.08.14 – Dining, Food & Drink, Recipes

Madrones: Chicken Tortilla Soup
Doris Simpson, a member of the Carroll Manor Fire Department auxiliary, stirs a pot of vegetable soup that is sold regularly as a fundraiser for the fire company.
Beans in the Belfry: Pumpkin Bisque
Wag's restaurant: Chili
Homemade Leek & Potato Soup (see recipes below)

Soup is considerably more than what’s ladled into a bowl—just as bread is deemed the staff of life, so too, is soup a source of nourishment and a sustainer of the soul. Soup once even taught an unfriendly town a subtle lesson about generosity and cooperation in the folk story, Stone Soup.

According to the tale, hungry soldiers arrived in the town, met by residents suspicious that they were seeking handouts. Instead, the soldiers took an empty pot, filled it with water and a stone, and placed it on a fire.  As the water boiled, the now-curious townspeople gathered. The soldiers tasted and lamented that if only they had an onion, the soup would be even better. Someone obliged. The soldiers continued stirring, tasting and suggesting other ingredients to improve it. Soon people were donating meat, potatoes and other vegetables from their homes. When the soldiers shared soup all around, folks were amazed this delicious concoction had come from a stone.

Even further back, in Old Testament times, soup was front and center in the feud between twin brothers Esau and Jacob. When Esau came in hungry from the fields, he surrendered his birthright to Jacob in exchange for a bowl of stew—a dish commonly referred to as “Esau’s Pottage” containing lentils and some type of meat, usually lamb.

Soup is a reminder of our childhoods—it’s almost impossible to have grilled cheese without a bowl of tomato soup, a common pairing that likely started in school cafeterias. Soup is the last stage for a leftover Thanksgiving turkey and the first thing most of us settle on when we want a quick meal, even if it’s straight out of a can. In the immortal words of those chubby-cheeked kids from Campbell’s Soup, it’s “Mmmm good!”

“It’s comfort food,” says Kevin Storm, general manager at Madrones restaurant in the Clemson Corner shopping center off Md. 26. “It makes us feel all warm and fuzzy, especially in the winter.” A man who enjoys making soup in his own kitchen, Storm says the secret is “soup benefits from slow cooking—four or five hours isn’t out of the question—and the right ingredients added at the right time.” The restaurant’s popular chicken tortilla soup, for instance, starts with whole chickens simmered to make a rich stock. “You can use chicken base out of a can,” he says, and you practically see him shudder on the other end of the phone, “but that’s not how we do it.”

Storm, a restaurant veteran who “started as a busboy at 15 and was promoted to the dish room at 16,” says soup is an important part of the menu. Madrones offers lobster bisque, Maryland crab and a seasonal soup on the daily menu and also a “soup calendar.” If it’s Monday, it’s black bean and ham. Wednesday and Friday? You can order the chicken-and-sausage gumbo. He says there are even customers who plan when to come in based on the soup of the day.

Hanna Politis, co-owner and events coordinator at Beans in the Belfry in Brunswick, says one overriding attraction of soup is that “it’s a meal in one bowl.” Italian wedding soup, one of her personal favorites, “has meatballs, veggies and pasta,” which stirred all together is indeed a meal. Additionally, the restaurant pairs soup with a side salad and French bread for more stick-to-your-rib-ness. Beans in the Belfry offers a soup of the day that can range from tomato-basil bisque to Tai lemongrass or shrimp chowder, “and we always have butternut squash soup,” Politis says.

Just for the Chili

The constant at Wag’s restaurant in Downtown Frederick is the chili. “We’ve had chili since day one,” says manager Joe Ellis who has spent 28 years there, taste-testing and sitting down to at least a bowl a week. “I’ve had people in here begging me for the recipe and people from other restaurants come in and rave about the chili. There are people who come in specifically for the chili,” Ellis says.

The restaurant goes through roughly 12 gallons of chili a week. “It doesn’t matter, summer or winter,” Ellis says, adding that they offer it spooned over French fries and burgers. “We also have a daily soup that runs the gamut from Italian tortellini soup to Greek chicken … we do potato chowder, bacon-and-cheddar potato soup, potato and sausage—we run potatoes to death.”

Restaurants (and no doubt your mamma) aren’t the sole sources for soup. At the Carroll Manor Fire Department, the auxiliary has been stirring the big pots ever since there’s been a fire company, “at least 55 years,” says member Doris Simpson. Proceeds from soup and sandwich fundraisers go to help maintain the fire department.

The auxiliary women stick with a tried-and-true quartet of ham and bean, chicken corn, vegetable beef and Maryland crab, with specific cooks assigned to each recipe. Simpson always makes the vegetable and crab soups, taking over from the late Iva Lee Johnson who bequeathed her the recipe. Carrie Young is the expert for chicken corn and Shirley Bazan is the queen of ham and bean.  The auxiliary holds their soup and sandwich fund raisers October through April, with time off in January and February. Even though those two months are just begging for soup, you’re on your own. Simpson says they never know what the weather will be like and would hate to face down a blizzard on soup and sandwich day.

Soup is sold by the quart and people have to order in advance. They also make it for the fire company’s sportsmen’s raffle and sell it during the Great Frederick Fair.  “All the soups go very well,” she says.

“I’ve been making [the vegetable soup] long enough that I know [the recipe] by heart, but I’ve also written it down in case my memory goes,” she says with a chuckle.  “I’ve no qualms about giving out the recipe, but really when it comes to making soup, use your own judgment, whatever you want to put in it.” For her vegetable soup she begins with beef cooked in water to produce a rich broth then adds chopped cabbage, diced tomatoes and onions, tomato juice and several bags of frozen mixed vegetables. For seasoning she favors basil, oregano, thyme, parsley and Worcestershire sauce. The only time she puts in salt and pepper is when the beef is cooking.

Simpson uses a favorite long-handled spoon to keep things stirred and she doesn’t exactly know why people find soup to be such a treasure. “All I know is I like them all,” she says, “especially when it’s cold outside.”

Obviously, soup rocks, even when there’s no stone in the pot.

Soup Recipes

Stone Soup

1 tablespoon butter or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, trimmed and chopped fine
1 large carrot, cut into coins
3 medium red-skinned potatoes, unpeeled and cut into halves
1/2 sweet red pepper, chopped
1 large garlic clove, pressed
6 cups chicken broth (or a combination of broth and water)
1 medium zucchini, diced large
1 medium yellow squash, diced large
1/2 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
2 cups cooked tubettini or ditalini, or other soup pasta (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese

Melt the butter or heat the oil, then sauté the onion on medium-high for 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in the celery, carrot, potatoes and red pepper, sautéing for 6 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds then add in the broth. Add the zucchini, squash, corn and pasta, cooking another 8 minutes or until the zucchini is the desired softness. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Before serving, sprinkle on the cheese and croutons. Serves 6 to 8.

Madrone’s: Leek & Potato Soup

2 cups leeks, roughly chopped
1 medium yellow onion
3 tablespoons butter
7 cups chicken broth
1 pound red bliss potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 cup light sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Cheddar cheese
Green onions
Cooked bacon

In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Sauté leeks and onions until very soft, at least 10 minutes. Add the chicken broth and potatoes and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Add sour cream and puree the soup with an immersion blender until smooth (or in a regular blender in smaller batches, but be careful with hot soup). Top with cheddar cheese, green onions and bacon, if you wish. Serves 4 to 6.

Beans in the Belfry: Pumpkin Bisque

One small pumpkin, cubed
Half an onion, diced
One medium apple, diced
One inch fresh ginger root, grated
Butter or oil for sautéing
2 tablespoons flour
6 cups either chicken or vegetable stock
Cheesecloth spice bag containing
2 bay leaves, 5 peppercorns,
1 sprig fresh thyme, two sticks of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 cup honey
1/8 cup brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream

Steam pumpkin cubes for 15 minutes, cool, cut off skin. Saute onion, apple and ginger in butter or oil. Add flour and stir. Add pumpkin and continue sautéing. Add broth and the spice bag, allspice, nutmeg, honey and brown sugar. Simmer 30 minutes, stirring often. Remove spice bag. Add cream and heat through. Blend with an immersion blender until smooth and thick. Add salt to taste. Sprinkle with nutmeg right before serving. Serves 6 to 8.