Every autumn I can’t help but start thinking about soup. And rightly so. As the nights get darker, the winds get stronger and the temperature drops, soups are an excellent way of warming us up and getting a good, solid bunch of nutrients into us. Give me a steaming bowl of soup and a chunk of great bread and I’m a happy bunny.
I recently picked up a copy of Jane Grigson’s 1970s book on British cooking. As you expect, she was more than a little damning on the state of our cuisine at the time. It was a period where convenience and not flavour or goodness was dominating our cooking. She gave a whole chapter of her book to soup – and I know why.
The history of soup is hugely interesting (well it is for me). In medieval days, the dish was made up of a piece of bread or toast that the liquid part was poured over. You ‘sopped’ it up. Not only a meal but the very means of eating it as well. As a bread person, that makes me feel very excited. I guess we only do the same nowadays for dishes like French Onion Soup. This ‘sop’, of course, was often taken in the later part of the day. Hence our ‘supper.’ Eventually, from being the centre piece of medieval meals, the soup became side-lined as more continental eating trends came across the channel, eventually relegating soup to a starter. No longer was a rich potage considered the highlight of a banquet.
Jane Grigson makes the point that people have probably been putting vegetables and bits of meat into a pot ever since the first metallic pans were made. It is the ultimate convenience food. Whatever you have in the cupboard, with a little seasoning and, perhaps, a few spices or herbs, will make a perfectly acceptable soup. Very little can go wrong either (apart from burning the pan – just make sure you keep stirring).
My personal favourites are:-
- Pea and Ham
- Butternut Squash
- Cream of Tomato
Butternut Squash soup is delicious. We keep ours nice and simple. Fry an onion until golden brown. Scald a pint of milk by adding it when the pan is very hot. Turn down the pan and add the flesh of a squash (keeping away the seeds and those stringy bits). Add a little stock. Keep simmering away until the flesh is nice and soft. Then season and blitz it with a stick blender. Add a little nutmeg right at the end. Work out the quantities yourself because it all depends on the size of the squash in the first place.
At the café, one of the favourite soups is Sweet Potato, Coconut and Chilli. It’s rich, aromatic with a little kick to it as well. As with everything, experimentation is the key and it’s the right time of year to give it a go. Be creative. You can hardly go wrong.
A shorter version of this article appeared in the Times and Star