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Soup season, at last

And all at once, summer collapsed into fall.” — Oscar Wilde

One of the things I learned in Scotland this summer is that my culture of origin — Southern American — is not really a soup culture, though maybe it would be more accurate to say that the climate of the American South is not really a soup climate. Not until cool weather arrives do the soup pots come out (if anybody other than me still uses soup pots).

In Scotland, especially in the Highlands and islands, soup is welcome on the table year round. Even in August, a friend who grew up in rural Ireland made some amazingly imaginative vegetarian soups. In these parts, you’d get some funny looks (and, in some households, shot) if you put hot soup on the table in August.

This year, August just wouldn’t go way. Summer persisted until early October with highs in the 90s, and then at last the weather changed. I turned off the cooling system and flung open the windows to let the nip in. While the cat sat in the window and pressed her nose against the screen to eye the birds, I was eyeing a soup pot and checking the contents of the fridge. For the first fall soup, I decided on a simple potato soup with onions, celery, and a whiff of garlic.

The challenge with vegetarian soups is the stock. I almost never buy ready-made soup stocks. Lord knows what’s in them. And the vegetarian versions almost always have some kind of weird, strong flavor that jumps into the foreground. The stock is a soup’s background. It should be savory but subtle. Another problem with store-bought soup stocks is that they’re mostly heavy liquid that weighs down the grocery bags. They’re not worth lugging home. My usual solution is the family of bouillons made by Better Than Bouillon. They’re light in the grocery bag, very concentrated, and they keep forever in the refrigerator. And let’s not forget that water makes a big difference. The water here comes from my own deep well (305 feet, with the lower 270 feet of it solid rock), and the drinking and cooking water goes through a charcoal filter.

There is no milk or cream in this soup. I thickened it by whizzing most of the potatoes in the blender when the soup was almost done. I also added some tahini. (Mix liquid slowly into the tahini to make a smooth sauce before adding it to the soup). Nut butters make great thickeners for soups. Peanut butter goes well in any soup that contains tomatoes. Tahini can stand in for milk or cream. This would have been a vegan soup except that it contained a little butter. I cooked it very slowly for three and a half hours, barely bubbling, covered.

Speaking of soup pots, I’m very happy with my new scheme of using only old-fashioned cookware. For sauces, sautéeing, and reducing, I’m using heavy tin-lined copper pots, vintage, bought on eBay. For frying and baking, I’m using cast iron, including a cast iron wok. For soups and anything that wants to boil, I’m using vintage Corning Visions cookware bought on eBay. Using glass cookware is a bit eccentric, but I like it because glass is so inert and does not affect the flavor of things — a particular problem with things such as soups and stews that cook long and slow.

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