This weekend, the Saturday Soup happens the day before Mother’s Day, a bittersweet day for me. In lieu of the normal recipe post, I’m republishing a guest post that I wrote for the so-wonderful Ashley of Ice Milk Aprons. She asked me to talk about heirloom and family recipes back in September…and I happily obliged. Fast forward to today…and I’m thinking about my mom, this recipe and that post. The words I said then are how I feel right now – happy, wistful, fortunate and a bit melancholy that I can’t share the holiday with my mom…at least directly. Please hug your mom today, think of the strong women in your life that influence you, and send warm wishes to those whose moms can only be with them in spirit. Also, please visit Ashley’s blog – it’s lovely and the Heirloom Recipes series is some seriously good reading. You can see my initial guest post here.
p.s. – this was before i was a vegetarian. you can skip the prosciutto or bacon if you want – it’s still very delicious.
I hope this finds you well. I do apologize for the delay in getting something to you. I have a small confession to make – approaching this blog post about recipes from my mother has been far more challenging than I first thought it would be. I’m writing this on the eve of the four year anniversary of my mother’s passing…and even typing about it today has made me more emotional that I realized I would be several years since her death. September has become a month of days – those kinds of days – the ones marked by a heaviness in the air. A tightness in my chest and a lump in my throat. This month is a series of anniversaries – a triple threat of my mom’s hospitalization, her birthday and then the day she died. It all happened so fast four years ago – 17 days from start to finish. Now, as that chain of events reminds me of itself every year, the time goes by so very slowly.
I spend my time in September when I’m not working, which thankfully this year isn’t often, by cooking. The oppressive heat we’ve been experiencing is so counter to the foods I crave this time of year. I woke up wanting to bake my mother’s chocolate chips cookies and put tomato-y stuffed cabbage rolls in the crock pot to simmer. Today, however, I wanted to make soup. My mother was an evil genius when it came to making soups. Several of her recipes are the stuff of legend – one year, a friend of mine asked if my birthday gift to him would be a quart of my mom’s chicken and rice soup. I asked, of course, and she happily obliged. I remember her then ridiculous idea for cheeseburger soup, which a few weeks later graced my lips as a spoonful of the most perfect cheeseburger you’ve ever tasted. Her way-heavier-than-need-be matzo ball soup that she took over the top with egg noodles in the bowl, as well (i think the peas in the broth were canned – no one is perfect) is something I still crave. Her improvisational skills when it came to soup were astonishing…and it’s a source of great inspiration for me. It’s also hard for me because when I want to recreate those recipes, as I am often want to do, I don’t have a recipe book or card to turn to. The very few journals of hand-written recipes or magazine clippings of ideas were sent to my aunts in the months after my mother passed away. It’s forced me to turn to my own recipe-less powers and hone them, which I am happy to say that I’m (mostly) able to do.
I woke up on this Sunday…and as I wait for the inevitable mix of sadness, frustration, grief, loss, and waves of memories that make me smile to wash over me…I made soup. Outside of the infamous chicken & wild rice soup (the recipe for which I’m still trying to figure out), one of my favorite soups my mother made was a recipe taught to her by my grandmother. In the way that most German recipes come about, it’s a simple way of using very cheap, hearty ingredients. An even mix of cabbage and potatoes with just a little bit of seasoning. I’ve never found a recipe for it…and haven’t attempted to make it until today.
Just smelling the ingredients simmering on the stove brought me back to smelling it our kitchen growing up. I hadn’t had this soup since before my mother passed away…and I have to tell you: tears welled up in my eyes when I tasted the first spoonful. It’s exactly how I remember it – thick, creamy (but it had no dairy in it), pungent from the cabbage but in the best possible way. Making this today – and finally recording the recipe for myself and others to see – felt like my mom’s hand on my shoulder. As hard as it’s been to talk about, the process of cooking in my life the way I was taught – even when I didn’t realize I was being shown – is one of the saving graces in my life now. For the longest time, I’ve lamented not paying more attention to my mom in the kitchen – you never think that one day, she’s not going to be around to teach you how to cook something. I guess that’s the power and the purpose of family recipes and passing them down. The process, the learning – it’s happening to you whether you realize it or not.
Thank you for giving me the chance to share this part of me and who I am – and a part of my family – with you, Ashley. You and your blog – and your dedication to beauty and tradition – are really something quite special.
All the best,
German Potato and Cabbage Soup – serves 6 to 8
– Melt the butter in a large, heavy- bottomed stockpot. When the butter is melted and starts to get foamy (not brown), add the onions and potatoes. Stir thoroughly, cover, and allow to simmer for about 10-12 minutes. Add the chicken stock (and/or water) and simmer the onions and potatoes until the potatoes are almost fork-tender, about 15 minutes. Add the cabbage and cook for another 10-12 minutes until the cabbage is also tender. Allow to cool and then puree in a blender until smooth. Pour the soup back into the pot and warm through again before serving, adding salt and pepper to taste.