I know, I know.
Fall is the time for soup. Winter is the time for soup. Those months where the whipping winds and falling leaves and blustery snow make you retreat into your toasty kitchen, where you can hover over a big ol' pot of simmering something until your taste buds and tummy and soul are warmed to a degree inversely proportionate to the temperature outside.
But it's spring now. And I still want soup. I should be craving things like asparagus, and arugula, and delicate buttery lettuces. Maybe a spring onion or two. But here I am, desiring cream of mushroom soup -- a dish I find nearly synonymous with Thanksgiving. I think it has to do with all the chilly, rainy days we've been having here, which are helping the grass sprout an unbelievable green and the irises seemingly grow before my very eyes and the huge lilac outside my kitchen window explode with its fragrant lavender blossoms. But that same chill made me sleep in my robe last night, then turn on the furnace around 1:30 a.m. when the blanket and 100-pound Chesapeake Bay Retriever were not enough to keep my toes warm.
The cream of mushroom soup that I turn to is the one my mother has been turning to for decades. The recipe is from Helen Corbitt's Cookbook, a delightful little unassuming book that looks more like a well-loved hardback novel sitting on the shelf. No full-color luscious photography; no stacked up trendy food. Just classic recipes printed on yellowing pages that are splattered here, crinkled there from years of heavy use. It even has cute little mushrooms on the spine!
Mom purchased the book at the behest of our dear friend Luta, the consummate hostess. In fact, nestled in the cookbook on page 258, opposite Helen Corbitt's Fruit Cake, is a letter dated December 17, 1976, from Luta that details her modifications to the fruit cake recipe -- modifications Luta herself learned from her mother. The letter also makes reference to an event that is legendary in my family's history: the time we were visiting Jack and Luta in Texas and Sister, then about nine years old, wrote on a piece of paper in a very heavy hand, "All ladies are sick and ugly." Apparently Mom and Luta were talking, and Sister wanted attention because whatever they were discussing did not involve her. So she scrawled that ugly missive, pressing so hard with the pen that her statement became engraved in the wood of the table, for all eternity. Luta took it in stride; she knew just why Sister was behaving so hideously. Once again, a simple cookbook holds evidence of a colorful family history and a long-standing nostalgic joke within its pages.
But on with the mushrooms! This woodsy, earthy soup is more than enough to make you happy whatever season it is, whatever the weather might bring. It is rich and "meaty" -- though I am often at a loss why people describe mushrooms as "meaty," here they do provide a lovely robust mouth-feel. The soup is fortified with a shot of sherry, which is that je ne sais quoi that makes this soup truly remarkable. Aside from the time is takes to finely chop the mushrooms, you'd never guess you could make this soup in less than an hour. Barely more time than it takes to open and reheat a can of Campbell's. It really does taste like it's been simmering all day long, perfecting itself while you curl up under the afghan with a good book.
Hurry up. Indulge yourself with some good old-fashioned cream of mushroom soup before it gets too hot that all you want to eat are fresh tomatoes. Don't get me wrong: those Tomato Days are glorious. But there is a time and a place for mushrooms, too. And as the thunder rolls in tonight, the mushrooms' place is with me.
CREAM OF MUSHROOM SOUP
Adapted from Helen Corbitt's Cookbook
Helen's recipe serves four, but I've doubled that recipe because, really, who wants just four servings? The divine Ms. Corbitt suggests that you strain this soup to remove the mushroom and onion bits, a step that I find too fussy for my taste. I went through the effort of finely chopping those mushrooms -- for goodness sake, I'm going to eat them.
8 T. butter
4 t. onion, finely chopped
1/2 lb. fresh button mushrooms, finely chopped
1/2 lb. cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
2 quarts (64 oz.) chicken stock
4 T. flour
2 t. kosher salt
2 c. half-and-half
4 T. dry sherry
Melt 4 T. of the butter in a large, deep skillet or dutch oven. Add the onion and saute until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and saute for about 4 minutes, until the mushrooms begin to release their moisture.
Add the chicken stock, cover and let simmer over low heat for 15 minutes.
Melt the remaining 4 T. of butter in another deep skillet or dutch oven. Add flour and salt, whisking thoroughly; cook for about 3 minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste.
Using a ladle, add the mushroom mixture to the flour mixture, whisking the first few ladle additions to dissolve the roux into the mushroom mixture. Add the half-and-half, stirring to incorporate. Add the sherry and cook for an additional 5 minutes or so. If you so choose, strain the soup through a wire mesh strainer. I do not so choose.
Makes 8 servings.