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Soup that restores

As the risks of a new lockdown rise, Helen sends us this new contribution to her series.

"Soup that Restores", from With bold Knife and Fork by MFK Fisher

MFK Fisher writes of the restorative effects of soup;

“When I am alone and perhaps a little low, it is good to heat a can of cream of tomato and some milk, or water, pour them into a warmed bowl with a sprinkle of cinnamon in it and go to bed with it. ( A small, wide mouthed pitcher is easy to drink from, especially if I am reading a good book.) Any mild, smooth soup will serve as well, and I usually keep a jar or two on hand. I make them from leftover vegetables and good basic stock, all put in a blender so that no spoon is necessary when I am half stretched out”

I think she’s absolutely right about the pleasure of dispensing with a spoon. In fact as I typed this, I felt an almost irresistible urge to make a dash to the shop across the road, seize a can of Heinz and repair to bed for the afternoon with a good radio play.

She also tells a story about the best soup she ever ate. She had been in bed for five days or so with “some kind of flu.” Her parents isolated her from her siblings and had as little physical contact with her as possible.

“I was a sick little animal, lying under the bushes farthest from the pack … (then) The fifth day, I felt as pure as a mountain stream, and eager for company, and almost wildly hungry.”

“And then my mother came. She put down a little tray with a big bowl on it and gave me the second hug of the week and went away. There, alone with me, waiting for me, was the biggest bowl - a kitchen bowl- of the most beautiful soup I had ever seen or smelled, of a clear colour like strong tea, with other glowing colours not too far below the surface, and a pearly vapour rising straight up. At first, I ate it properly, with a large spoon (the Irish pattern, which was usually saved for Occasions). Then, aware that things were going exactly as my other had meant them to, I picked up the bowl in both hands and sucked at it the way a half- drowned cow or sailor will suck at the air. It filled me with bliss. I drank all the dark, heady broth – slowly, no doubt noisily, and very voluptuously. I lay back. Then I returned to the delicious engagement and ate the freshly cooked morsels of half a dozen vegetables at the bottom of the bowl, and the bits of meat that had been cut from the big bones I had smelled rolling in their kettle. I tipped down the last drop, put the kitchen bowl neatly on its tray, and sank back again for a long sweet nap. I was sure that more soup would be there for supper.”

Here is her recipe for Alpine Mushroom Soup.

½ lb mushrooms
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups milk
5 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons flour
¼ cup dry white wine, or

3 tablespoons dry sherry

Simmer chopped mushrooms in stock and milk for 20 minutes. Rub through course sieve (I prefer to skip this step) Melt butter and blend in flour. Add liquid mixture slowly and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until thick. Season. Just before serving add wine or sherry.

She also suggests that one should “beat an egg lightly with a little broth or wine and stir it into a cup of steaming consommé, to make a quick restorative from cold or weariness.”

As this is about the comforts of soup, you might like to read Hattie Garlick's series on "A Year in Chicken Soup". On the other hand, Agnes Jekyll has a very different take on soup.

A PDF version of the recipe for for "Alpine Mushroom Soup" is available here.

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