Brother John’s ‘Tater Soup

October 14, 2008 at 10:00 am (Recipes) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Brother John

Brother John will show you how to make his delicious 'Tater Soup

Actual pile of dad's potatoes fresh from his personal garden!

Every year around late September or early October I get hungry for some homemade potato soup. As the weather cools down and the leaves begin to display their beautiful fall colors, a nice hot bowl of rich creamy potato soup really goes down well. It’s also around this time of year that my dad brings Kathy and me a fresh sack of (various) potatoes he’s grown from his personal garden. The potatoes are so fresh they still have some dirt and mud on them from when he dug them up. Evidently, my sister Eydie and brother-in-law Sammy also get this same gift from dad. And like me, it appears they also enjoy a hearty bowl of potato soup! They’ve even posted their own recipe! Check it out in their Wine and Food Recipes section or click right here if you can’t wait. Either way, be sure to come on back when you’re done!

Items to be Sautéed

Fresh Carrots

Fresh Celery

Fresh Onions

Finely Diced Carrots

Finely Diced Celery

Finely Diced Onions

Fresh ingredients and lightly salted butter go into the sauté pan to be cooked down.

Before I get started I want to point out one thing. If you are going to cook anything, always use the freshest ingredients you can find! Here I’ll be using fresh sweet orange carrots finely diced; crisp, tender celery (including the bright green leaves), also finely diced; and beautiful sweet onions (from my dad’s own garden) which we’ll finely chop as well. (The onions are so delicious in soup that I often double the amount)! I sauté all these ingredients in an entire stick of high quality, lightly salted butter. (Sorry, I’m just not a big fan of margarine). Don’t worry if that seems like a lot, it’s very easy to remove excess butter once the soup is prepared. I’ll tell you how to do that later.

Veggies Come Together... right now...
Now Simmer Down!

All of the vegetables to be sautéed go into the sauté pot along with the stick of butter. This should be cooked over a medium heat and stirred to keep the veggies from sticking to the bottom. Now… you might very well ask me why I bother to sauté these vegetables? Many of you might simply add them to your liquid and boil away. I’ve found that sweating my vegetables in rich liquid butter imparts a flavor that can’t be beat. And it will slightly speed up the cooking time. Because I make a buttery milk based broth for my potato soup, it doesn’t hurt to give the veggies a head start and this becomes the perfect time to add a little sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. It also smells heavenly! Talking about cheering up your kitchen on a dreary Autumn day. This will do it for you!

Let the cooking begin!

Now we start making soup!

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t included measurements. And there is a reason for that. I knew I wanted to make a rather large batch of potato soup, perhaps as much as six quarts and that meant I had to use the largest pan I own. So I put some fresh spring water into it and then diced enough of dad’s potatoes to fill it half way with an inch of water on top of that. Good starting point. I then added the sautéed veggies and that told me what else I needed to do. Sometimes that would be to add more water, but this time it needed four additional potatoes.

Adding Evaporated Milk and Fresh Cream makes this rich!
Bring this up to a gentle boil.

A soup stock made of fresh spring water would not really be much to write home about. But I like to let the potatoes cook a while in water until they are just starting to soften up. Then I add a mixture of evaporated milk, and fresh cream. This actually turns my pan of water into a pan of creamy milk and causes the soup to start looking like potato soup. (You know… I didn’t have anyone to take these pictures so I tried the old “Hold the camera in one hand while pouring with the other” trick. And it actually worked! I had expected I’d either end up with liquid running all over my stove top, or that I would totally miss the shot. But I managed to get both right the first time!).

My potato soup will still needs three more ingredients before its done, but one of them is very interesting. We’ll talk about that one next.

An Egg Divided.

Potato soup can really benefit from a few hard boiled eggs! The trick is to first hard boil them, and then separate the yolk from the egg white. The bright yellow yolk can be broken down into the texture of course sand, which can then be added to the potato soup to give it a very rich flavor.

The added protein will really pick you up on those cold Autumn days. (I know of others who also do this and they use both the egg yolk and the egg white. Kathy doesn’t care much for the egg whites so I save them in a bowl wrapped in cellophane. I’ll show you how I use them later on. Remember… nothing shall be wasted!).

Freshly grated sharp

I then like to get my soup up to a mild boil and add freshly grated sharp cheese to my potato soup! Melted cheese tastes great and will also give you some added protein. I also like the orange color it adds to an otherwise very white soup. It’s also a good time to add some fresh parsley, but I didn’t have any in the house. I did have dried parsley, so I added a generous portion of that to give a little green color here and there to my soup. We eat with the eyes, so color is an important factor!

And it all comes together to make a lovely soup!

Which brings us to the final product. A big pan of Brother John’s homemade potato soup! During this final stage, excess butter will simply float to the top where it can easily be skimmed away for those who want to restrict their butter intake. You should really try to make this soup for yourself because it’s hearty, it will fill you up, and will bring a bit of sunshine to any dreary day!

SIX QUARTS OF GOOD EATING!

Good eating for a while

Kathy and I won’t go hungry for a while with six quarts of potato soup. I’ve even been known to get up at 2:30am and make a bowl as a “midnight” snack! There are two points I want to leave you with:

  1. Never waste anything! (Example #1: Breakfast)
  2. Never waste anything! (Example #2: Compost)

Hope you enjoy making and eating Brother John’s ‘Tater Soup!

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Spiders, Snakes, Aphids, and Bees!

September 21, 2008 at 11:30 am (bee hive, Bees, Brother John, Jasper, Plants, Recipes, Wine Making) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

Snakes And Bugs And Bees... Oh My!

Today was another of those days when the place for morning coffee was on the deck. I opened the door, let Emy cat out and fended off the boisterous good morning activity of the dogs. I wasn’t out for more than a minute before I went inside to grab a jacket to throw over my pajamas, and slide my new moccasin birthday slippers on my feet. The temperature had dipped down into the 40’s over night. I am surprised that the home hummingbirds are still present, active, and seemingly in no hurry to leave. They continue to dive bomb each other, hover in front of my face, and perch on top of my wind chimes. Emy discovered a few days ago that she can jump on top of the deck rail and walk along it, tantalizingly out of reach of the dogs. They whine, they entreat me to get her down so they can chase her, they finally pretend indifference until she casually strolls over to where I am now leaning against the rail and rubs her face against mine. That does it, the dogs explode in a frenzy of jealous barking, making so much noise I have to trick them away from the house with a stick I throw far out into the yard so that Sammy has a slight chance of continuing his sleep.

Today is the last day of vacation! I love the changing of the guard of the seasonal flowers. Right now there are asters of all kinds in the un-mown areas of the yard. New England Asters willingly cluster around the mailbox, their light blue flowers seeming to glow in the morning light. Small white asters (I’ll have to look those up in the flower book) grow in abundance, creating bushy clumps. Fortunately none of us are allergic to goldenrod, because it is everywhere. My thoughts this morning, besides a song that is stuck in my head, are on wine. (The song, by the way, is “By the light of the silvery moon.” I don’t where all these obscure tunes come from, but this one must be one of my mother’s old barbershop quartet tunes, because it’s not only in my head, it’s in my head in four part harmony.)

Wine, we plan to bottle the blackberry wine today if all goes well. The wine has “cleared” and is a gorgeous color. I keep telling myself what the wine book says, that the wine must “mature” but the little voice inside my head (I think it’s the same voice that’s singing baritone) says, “Drink it. Drink it. Drinkitdrinkitdrinkitallnow.” But don’t worry, the last time I listened to that voice it was telling me that “no, of course not, bell bottoms will NEVER go out of style.” As I wandered around the yard I took notice of several fat rose hips on the Jacob’s Coat of Color Rose. My old wine book mentions that one of the truly exceptional elites of the homemade wines is rose hip wine. The author of the book only made a few bottles a year and prized them above all other. I don’t have nearly enough rose hips of my own, but I know a place where the multi flora rose (wild rose) grows thick. I went there a few years ago to pick some hips for rose hip tea. Like the blackberry session, each fat rose hip pulled me further into the brier warren until I suddenly found myself surrounded on all sides by impenetrable thorns. Thorns grabbing my shirt, pants, gloves, hair, holding me fast until some handsome prince came to magically free me and kiss my waiting lips…Right in the middle of THAT pleasant daydream a deer leaped out of the briers, not more than three feet from me. Well, by the time I tore my way out of the warren, yelping all the way,with the deer gracefully leaping unscathed in the other direction, I was pretty sure I would need plastic surgery and a pint or two of blood.

It’s not unheard of to have September frost, and I’d been planning all week to take the house plants inside for the cold season, so we decided to make that one of our last vacation projects. We really only have one southern exposure window downstairs in the spare bedroom, and each year all of the “big” plants get crowded around this one window until the room looks like something out of Jumanji. When I met Sammy and we began our courtship, he had one fairly big avocado tree that he had grown from a seed. At the time we met this tree was decorated with colored lights and red bows and was Sammy’s Christmas tree. I promptly named her “Iris” and would blow big Co2 laden kisses on her whenever I saw her. (Plants like that, you know. They don’t even care if you’ve had garlic, or Kosher pickles, or never brush your teeth-not that I know about that one, but I know someone who does!!!) Anyway, now, some four years later, Iris brushes her head on the ceiling and throws her arms out in a six foot span. Her “little sisters” (also grown from seed) number four, and we’ve even given some away to loving homes! We also have a beautiful “walking” iris we got as a start from my dad, a robust calla lily, some elderly Dieffenbachia, and a Mimosa pudica (“sensitive” plant). This plant curls it’s leaves up whenever they are touched, then slowly unfolds them again. All in all there were nine plants to bring in. Before they left the great outdoors each plant was trimmed of wind tattered or bug eaten leaves, re-potted if needed, had a scoop or two of potting soil added to “top off” the pots, and was sprayed with a soap solution to kill off aphids.

While I was re-potting and puttering and rearranging, our cats were having an adventure. Sammy called me downstairs from the kitchen where I had been stuffing a pickled egg into my mouth (and yes, Brother John, you DO have to chew them at least once!)

NOTE: Brother John here… you may be interested in knowing that I do NOT like pickled eggs! Probably comes as a surprise to my family. See? You learn something new every day!

Sammy had that mildly interested, not distressed at all, manly tone to his voice so I suspected immediately that the kittens had “found” a new toy in the basement, one that Sammy wasn’t real comfortable with. The toy turned out to be a little ring necked snake. These little guys are hardly bigger than a good sized earthworm and are pretty laid back. Not, of course, when they’re being batted across a concrete floor like an air hockey puck while being chewed on from the backside up by two brave kittens honing their hunting skills. (I guess snakes have a backside…) Sammy wondered aloud two or nineteen times if there were probably more snakes in the basement. We did have a nice sized garter snake in the basement beside the soda tub on our wedding day. Sammy’s not overly fond of snakes. Or the multiple ladybug infestations we get inside the house each winter after the stove is fired up, or the rather large (actually very, very large) hairy wolf spiders that take up residence also in the basement come winter. I actually had a spider one year, before I met Sammy, named Tawanda. She was very curious and liked noise and vibration. Often she would “come out” to check out company. My sister-in-law and her husband were visiting one late fall and we were sitting around downstairs enjoying the wood stove and drinking beer. Enough beer that when all of a sudden my brother-in-law’s eyes bugged out of his head and he said, “Ohmygod, what IS that?”, Tawanda looked much bigger to him than she really was. Tawanda had come over to investigate and was nearly on his foot. Tawanda’s body was about the size of a somewhat flattened walnut. I had difficulty preventing George from flattening her more. Finally, they took pictures and went home claiming I had a pet tarantula.

Today was the kind of day that called for a woods walk and hot soup. I’ve been hungry for a thick, full bodied, stick to your ribs soup or stew. I bought the ingredients to make potato soup but then as the vacation days went by the ingredients disappeared. The milk went into cereal, the sausage went into pizza, the onion went into spaghetti sauce. The potatoes are still there, waiting patiently as potatoes do. I’m like my Scottish friend who, when I asked him what his favorite food was, said “Stovies”. I said, “What’s that?” He replied, “Any thing that’s made from potatoes and cooked on the stove.”

I did get a little bit of a walk in. Just as I was finishing re-potting my plants, Sammy came down the ridge with the camera in hand and said, “You have to come see this. This is incredible.” I said, “What’s that Sweetie?” He said, “Bees.” Well, I was pretty sweaty despite the cool day so I broke off some of the lemon balm that grows by the basement door and rubbed it on my arms. I walked up the hill toward the “orchard” where we have our six fruit trees. To the right of the orchard is the ‘upper pond”. This is an eight by eight round pond, about five feet deep, that is fed by a spring that runs all year long. Sounds lovely but two years ago some tree roots in combination with winter burrowing bull frogs resulted in a series of leaks. Now there is only about two feet of water in the pond, but it is nice, clear water. Between the orchard and the pond is a large patch of yard we decided to let fallow this year. It is covered at the moment with the bushy asters I need to identify. It was also covered with Italian honeybees. Not covered by a swarm, these little girls were busy gathering nectar and pollen from the asters. It was so covered I heard the busy hum of hundreds of bees before I even got close. I watched them for the longest time. I wonder, who has hives near here? I know all the neighbors, in fact, should we take to this beekeeping life, I plan to ask them to let us hive the protected niches of their fields. Could these fine little Italians be a wild hive? If so, will they be okay for the winter? They had such delicate little flights from tiny flower to tiny flower. They were happy bees that day and I wished them a safe trip home and safe winter.

Jasper had, of course, followed me up the hill. He patiently waited for me to interview the bees, and then, when I started back down toward the house, ran a little way up the hill and gave me a look that said, :”Come on. Up this way.” So I followed him up. Jasper is my hiking buddy. He loves the winter, and likes nothing better than the woods in snow. One year he and I set out after a storm had given us several inches of white powdery snow. It was so cold and dry the snow kicked up in plumes as we made our way up the ridge. I lost sight of Jasper, not difficult since he’s white, so I called him. All of a sudden he was there above me, on an outcropping just exposed enough to catch eddies of wind that swirled the snow around me. I had a sudden image of myself in buckskin and furs, my long black hair plaited as I searched beneath the snow for wintergreen berries to take back to add to venison jerky for trail mix to feed the tribe. Jasper and I shared one of those moments when the world is is suffused with joy and all of heaven stops to approve. Today we just walked up to the top of the ridge and then raced back down. Actually, Jasper was the only one racing, but I let him think he won.

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Preparing for the Dormant Season

September 13, 2008 at 3:46 pm (Authors, bee hive, Bees, Blackberry, Books, Carboy, honey, Mead Making, Plants, Rosina Lippi, Sara Donati, Wine Making) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

Super Eydie

I woke up this afternoon to the sound of a steady, gentle, windless rain. I woke up this afternoon to the knowledge that we are off work for a week of vacation! Woohoo! (I hate that exclamation but sometimes if the woohoo fits you gotta go with it.) This is somewhat of a working vacation, a time to get the property ready for the change of seasons from the growing season, to the harvest season, to the dormant season. So, some seasonal things that are in the works this week if the weather cooperates: Wood. A priority. Last year we cut wood from our property and from the adjoining property of our new Amish neighbors. Last year they hadn’t built their home and weren’t yet living on the property so they hadn’t a need to cut firewood from there. Last year had some time consuming components occurred that resulted in the plain and simple fact that we didn’t cut enough wood to see us through. We were reduced to slogging out in mid-winter when the weather cleared enough to allow and cutting a truckload of wood here and there. On one memorable (but not pleasurably so) occasion I was clearing the snow off dead fall with my boot, then pounding the ice off with a stout branch so Sammy could take the chainsaw to it. The days worth of firewood had to be placed around the wood stove the day before it was used to thaw. Sammy developed the habit during those last winter weeks of slowing the car down whenever we saw a particularly abundant woodpile by someones home and drooling, “wood.” The same drooling word applied to tempting dead fall tantalizingly close to the roadsides. We did “liberate” a bit of this. One night as we were coming home from the movies (the nearest movie theaters are an hour away) Sammy put on the brakes, skidded to a stop, jumped out of the car and next thing I knew he was struggling with a frozen hulk of storm downed dead oak. I was not dressed for the weather (although we do carry emergency boots, tow rope, shovel, overalls, sleeping bag, water, granola bars, and in my case a steamy romantic novel stashed under the seat) and I found myself putting the back seats down and spreading an old blanket over cargo space as wet slushy snow filled my “good” shoes and my fingers froze to the chunk of wood as we levered it in.

Our Real Wood Burning Stove!

Another chore for the week is to prepare the wood stove for the season. I always try to hold off having the first fire until Halloween night. This week on the appointed day I will dismantle and carry outside the three pieces of stove pipe that connect the wood stove to the chimney and Sammy and I will carry the wood stove outside. I have two kinds of stove black, both leftovers my dad gave me from his stove. One is a paint on stove black and one is a rub on buff off product. I’ll use the paint on stuff this year because I didn’t black the stove last year and it’s a bit scaly. The stove first has to be gone over with a wire brush to remove scaly rust and accumulations of burned creosote from the last winter’s fires. Creosote forms from the sap contained in wood and from burning “green” wood or wood that still has a high moisture content. Pines and “soft” woods like soft maple contain a higher degree of creosote and as such are less desirable for wood stoves. These “soft” woods also burn faster, requiring more work and attention to keep a fire going. Once the stove is scraped clear I’ll paint the thing with the stove black and allow that to dry. After a stove is blacked and is “fired up” for the first time it will stink to high heaven and give off nasty fumes that will fill the house. That’s a project for a day when the windows can be opened. Also, the first fire should be run “hot” (the dampers opened to allow more oxygen in to cause a hotter fire) to season the new black.

Which brings me to the next chore. The chimney must be checked and cleaned. This is Sammy’s department because I am moderately not okay with heights. I CAN do heights if I have to, when I was widowed the first time (I’m a widow X 2, Sammy is a brave man of strong faith) my dad had me get up on the roof of my house at the time and help in the re-roofing. And I do fly these days without needing to drink heavily as I did my first couple of flights. Now I drink heavily merely for the pleasure (ha ha). The chimney for our house runs outside the east wall of the house. At the base of the chimney, outside the house, is a small metal door for the “clean out”. This is opened at the start of the wood burning season and several times throughout to scoop out the accumulated ash and creosote that falls to the bottom of the chimney. After this is cleaned out, (if I didn’t do it at the end of last year and I’m guessing I didn’t), I’ll take a hand held mirror and angle it up the chimney, if I see light reflected I know the chimney is at least patent. Sometimes during the summer birds will nest in the chimney. Come the start of a fire, any blockage, if not cleared, will not allow oxygen to reach the fire or the chimney to “draft”. In a clear, well functioning chimney, the air flowing over the top will entrain the rising warm air to cause it to be literally pulled out of the chimney. This decreases smoke, which will otherwise fill the house, and also allows the fire to burn more efficiently. A “cold” chimney (one in which a fire is just being started) will also smoke and refuse to draft. This is why a “cold” fire should be started with some quick, hot burning materials such as newspaper twists or pine needles. I find that the dried out stalks of my summer day Lilly’s work great. Once the chimney is checked with a mirror Sammy climbs the ladder to the roof and pushes down the chimney brush. (Go watch the movie “Mary Poppins” if you need to see what one looks like.) A rope is tied to the handle so he can pull it back up to brush out the chimney. After several passes I scoop out the “clean out” and we’re ready for fire!

A few other chores that are on the list for this week are: Bring in the house plants that have enjoyed the summer outside underneath the deck, bring down the fall (and winter) clothes from the attic and pack up the summer clothes, harvest the pears from the one tree in the “orchard” and make some pear butter, harvest flower seed from the sunflowers, Cleome, morning glory, etc. I discovered a few years ago that sunflowers, especially the giant sunflowers we like, make an excellent support for a variety of climbing flowers. I have a large flower bed Sammy named “the solstice bed” because not only does it have all day sunlight, but we grow beautiful sunflowers in it. I plant a few morning glory seeds with each sunflower seed in the spring and have a gorgeous “wall” of morning Glory’s that climb the sunflower stalks in the summer. I have read that the native Americans used the same technique with corn and beans that I will try next year. Another chore (well, I’m REALLY looking forward to this one so maybe chore isn’t the best word) is to get the base prepared for our future bee hive(s) next year.

But, all that’s in the future for now, tonight is an evening to anticipate, plan. and relax. We had some leftovers for supper: ham, green beans from the garden, and potatoes from dad’s garden for supper, a cinnamon raisin bagel topped with Minsi mountain honey for desert, and a look at our wines for entertainment will about fill the rain filled evening hours. The blackberry wine is about ready to bottle and has become a clear ruby red. The elderberry, in puberty to its pathway to the sublime, is still cloudy and will need to be racked soon, and the mead, still fermenting slowly, has just begun to clear somewhat. I did watch a introduction to beekeeping video tonight. The result of the video was that my “Santa” list now includes a bee veil, smoker, and hive tool.

Sammy and I would like to proudly show off our “Girls”. Please click on any of the images to get a larger, clearer view. Aren’t they just beautiful?

Mead Image #1 Mead Image #2 Mead Image #3 Mead Image #4
Wine Image #1 Wine Image #2 Wine Image #3 Wine Image #4

And now, a self indulgent gluttony of the second Sara Donati book, Dawn on a Distant Shore. I wish I had some of our wine, alas, it’s not ready yet. I’ll have to settle for a beer. Sammy, being a southern boy, drinks “red eye beer”, which is beer with tomato juice. My dad has a conniption fit about using good canned tomato juice to “pervert” good beer. But Brother John and Sammy like it. Who am I to say? I eat stuff I pick out of the yard each spring.

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