Soup’s on! A Day of Canning…

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Last Sunday, I woke up at my usual weekend time of 6ish, amazed that my body consistently refuses to sleep in until at least 7 am… It was a bit chilly in the house; you could certainly notice that fall was slowly but surely settling in permanently. Witnessing the transition between darkness and sunrise, the “little morning” as I like to refer to it, is by far my favourite time of the day… All is quiet around me with no one to disrupt this time of mine, and inevitably, my head usually fills up with many kitchen projects for the day. On this particular morning, trying to stay warm and toasty with my hot cup of Joe, curled up in my favourite chair, all I could think of was soup. The weather outside was dreadful: cold, wet, windy… What a perfect day to make some big batch soups! I had already made a chicken broth the day before and my fridge was bursting at the seams with more vegetables than I should have purchased! Today was going to be a great cooking day, I could just feel it. Since I had to wait for a decent hour before sending aromatic fumes of onions and garlic sweating in olive oil all the way up to the bedrooms where the men in my household were snoring away, I mentally organized my plan of action. By 8am, I was ready for battle and chose to bake a quick loaf thinking that it may be a more appropriate smell to wake up to! That is, if anything at all could wake them up from their deep torpor…

I love to concoct soups and I like to think that it is my strength in the kitchen. After learning how to make basic stocks in college and then expanding my broth portfolio under the tutelage of my mother-in-law, I have spent most of my cooking life gathering soup recipes, techniques and ingredient combinations. It is one of the things I enjoy cooking the most. From chopping the vegetables to selecting the flavour profile, I feel completely in control when I am preparing soups: for the most part, recipes are not required however; they can serve as great sources of inspiration. I love that you can build flavours by layering several ingredients while enveloping the house with the most tantalizing aromas. Soups are comforting, filing, nutritious and economical to make. My mother-in-law Maria taught me to think forward and outside the box when cooking, especially soups, in order to stretch the food budget. Maria, a WWII survivor from Romania and war refugee in Austria in the mid-forties after her family had been forced out of their home & town by Russian invaders, had mastered the art of stretching a budget without compromising the yummy comforting factor. Thanks to her, I discovered that great broths are not limited to chicken and beef… Lucky for me, she imparted a lot of her knowledge and many of her old world recipes with me. Two of the most unusual broths I have come to love and use all the time are ham and pork rib broths. I used to throw away the cooking liquid when boiling ham or ribs not thinking they could be used at all. Now, I find it sacrilegious to even think of discarding these wonderful liquids. The soups created from these broths are so rich in flavour it is mind boggling that they are not more often proposed in recipes: believe me, I am a recipe junkie (online, books, magazines etc..) and hardly ever come across a reference to these stocks as the perfect soup base. So in my house, leftover ham and its broth becomes a rustic white bean, carrot, potato and ham soup. And rib stock becomes the best base for a good old Hungarian Goulash. It is also the star of a family favourite Germanic folk soup, another mom-in-law recipe: a hearty soup made with cream of wheat dumplings and carrots. So simple, yet so economical, filling and über comforting. Another trick I learned from her was to peel the carrots that would be used to flavour a stock. Most broths are made with a meat, some onions, carrots and celery. Once ready, the bones and mushy vegetables are normally discarded. But carrots tend to hold very well during this process. By peeling and leaving them whole, they can be retrieved from the stock before discarding the rest and then, chopped and used right away. No need to peel and chop a brand new batch of carrots! Who knew things could be this simple and easy on the pocket book…

Now back to this particular soup making Sunday! Without ham or ribs to cook, I opted to make vegetable stock using up what I normally call the “veggie waste”: root vegetable leaves, stems and peelings, tired looking carrots and tomatoes, the foot of a celery, onions, hearty herbs and a generous amount of salt and pepper. And since I had gone “mad” vegetable shopping earlier in the week, I decided it may be wise to consider canning and make several other soups. I chopped and stirred and chopped and tasted and chopped and ladled all day! In the end, my loot was impressive: jars of vegetable stock, Asian inspired vegetable soup, classic minestrone and Tex-Mex chicken black bean soup filled my pantry. The house smelt divine all day and hungry boys kept dodging in and out of the kitchen, grabbing spoons for taste tests and anything else they could score to calm their aroma triggered appetites.

I am happy to report that going nuts making several pots of soups like this is not the norm for me, thank goodness!!! Most weeks, I will cook up a batch or two of soup with what I have on hand and what needs to be used up in my fridge. I may be inspired by a recipe I come across or by some star vegetable currently in season. But most importantly, I tend not to follow recipes because when it comes to soups, recipes should merely be viewed as guidelines. A soup is to a cook what a blank canvass is to an artist. My colour palette is a cutting board overflowing with a cornucopia of vegetables and my painter’s tool box most likely includes a sharp knife, a wooden spoon, a vegetable peeler and a ladle. In the end, it is always a work of art…??? ????????

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2 thoughts on “Soup’s on! A Day of Canning…

  1. It’s funny, when I was a kid I hated soup. I think it was the combination of liquidy with chunky, and soup always seemed too hot and too salty. But now I love it – as soon as fall shows up I’m thinking soup and making soup. Yours have me drooling!

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