At the risk of being somewhat repetitive, I am going to talk about another potato recipe today.
As you may know, we have been growing all our own vegetables this year. I have been writing about it over at my garden blog Humble Garden. I have learned a whole lot about organic gardening (mostly its about getting out of the way of nature, the zen approach – A healthy and diverse ecosystem with strategic and complimentary or companion intercropping and intensive permacultivation allows for a balance that gives you healthy plants with very little fuss at all).
We grew straw bale potatoes (potatoes are put on the ground – not in it – and straw is layered over it. See these links: “Its all about the green” and “A small harvest of straw potatoes” ) but have not reaped a large harvest. Potatoes are fascinating for their ethnobotanical journeys across the world and also its plant physiology but most importantly, homegrown potatoes have a distinct flavor different from the ones in the store, making any trouble you put into growing them worthwhile. I urge you to give some a try next year. You could grow them in containers so even intrepid sky high apartment dwellers should be able to hack homegrown taters.
Even though the harvest was meager, what we have gotten, as I have mentioned before, are definitely tasty. I just wrote previous to this post in “Homegrown Potato Satori” about using them in a simple saute.
The potatoes have been lurking for me a bit because I do not have a large potato eating habit and so I do not know THAT many recipes for using them. I was raised to eschew pasta and potatoes, rice was King.
I was looking for SOME sort of inspiration for our taters before they were no longer brand spanking new.
The other day, I was reading a book called “The Lost Towns of Quabbin Valley” about the towns from the region that is now called the Quabbin Reservoir here in Massachusetts. These five towns were essentially summarily dismissed, condemned to obsolescence, taken by imminent domain and razed to the ground (This man-made lake is the water source for Eastern MA – Boston).
One of the photos in the book shows the North Dana schoolhouse (1910, I think) with a caption that talked about how the children would have hot lunch at school, one day a week.
A quote by Katherine Reed, a 90 year old former pupil, says:
“It was usually soup and often potato soup. Us older girl were allowed to leave class a little early to peel the vegetables. It happened on Fridays, and all the students brought their own cup and spoon.”
School lunch, one day a week, no plates or utensils! They probably had more nutrition in that one meal than is served all week in today’s public school’s meals. Don’t get me started.
In 1910, they were likely using potatoes from home gardens, very much like mine so I was inspired to make a potato soup that they may have eaten. My recipe has some things they likely didn’t have the money to add – cheese and sour cream perhaps, maybe even the pepper.
I searched online and through my old Joy of Cooking and didn’t find any recipes that sang to me. What follows is an admixture of all the recipes that I found with various sections from here and there to make this soup.
You may need to add more or less salt and pepper to bring it to a flavor right for you and your family. We had only this for supper and we were mighty satisfied. We liked it chunky. The thought of blending this soup makes me weep, it would make it into a glue-like mass.
For us, the flavor was the purity of freshly harvested potatoes. The salt and pepper were nice sub-notes. The sour cream, while decadent and optional (isn’t everything?), is a nice pure accent of creamy goodness. I can see using yogurt instead for a lower fat and different flavor. Adding the chives was also a nice additional layer of flavor. I added some cilantro and a bit of fresh sage to my soup more as a nibble of green versus a dominant over all soup flavor. You could incorporate sage into the recipe (I love sage) but I preferred to keep the main flavor to potato.
Cheesy Potato Soup
- 8 medium potatoes (try to get fresh ones from a farmers market or grow your own) (I used the yellow skinned potatoes we grew)
- 1 C whole milk
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 3 C organic chicken broth
- 1 C finely shredded cheese (I used cheddar, you might want to get more creative with this if you wish)
- 1/2 C half and half (or more, up to you)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
- 1 tablespoon bacon fat
- sour cream – enough for a small spoon for each serving
- chives – small cut – for garnish
Dig up potatoes, pitch any that have been nibbled on by resident rodents, hose off dirt while standing in front yard and enjoying the sunny fall day. Once inside, clean away all remaining dirt and peel potatoes. Boil in salted water until a knife slips in easily but the potato does not crumble apart. Remove to a strainer to drip dry. Do not let the potatoes sit in the water.
Bring the milk and minced shallot up to a scalding simmer (do not boil) and add the flour. Whisk very briskly to avoid any chance of flour lumps. Add the chicken stock and bacon fat and bring back up to a simmer. Add 1/2 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated black pepper. Add shredded cheese and stir to incorporate.
Add potatoes and begin to break them down into smaller pieces. I suggest not using any sort of mechanical device, just the back of a large spoon. Do not make it a mashed potato soup. Leave a lot of texture.
Simmer until the remaining potato chunks are of a mouth feel that you like. Add half and half to the soup and bring back up to serving temperature. Do not boil. Add remaining or even more salt and pepper to your taste.
Learn more about the Quabbin Lost Towns: