We had been married for a year or two. Like many newlyweds, we were on a tight budget, we both liked to eat, and we came from families of good cooks – and no written recipes. Oh, I had, several cookbooks – still have, an early 1970’s edition of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. It is the one with the checked red and white cover, little tabs on the side for meat, vegetables, soups, etc. Most of the tabs have worn off and a few of the pages are torn or splattered with ingredients. I have a newer version, but, I tend to reach for the well-worn edition, mostly because the back inside cover has quick conversions and my favorites are so used that they just seem to tumble out right when I need them.
This, however, is not a post about cookbooks. It is about my journey in making potato soup, which was one of those comfort foods that my groom loved and for which there was no recipe. Tom’s mother made it, as did her mother before her, and his great-aunt, Ethel. It comes from their family’s kitchen on the old homestead in Ohio. The potatoes were harvested from the kitchen garden behind the barn. The milk would have come from the cow in the barn and the eggs came from the chicken coop just a few steps from the barn. The bacon was from a butchered hog, smoked and cured and oh-so-good.
Potato soup is comfort food. It is inexpensive and something many cultures share, with variations in seasonings and ingredients, but with the common use of potatoes.
In those early years, having had the soup only once, maybe twice, and with no idea whatsoever how to make it, I thought I would give it a try. Tom thought he could guide me through it – and he did. It is amazing what we can remember from those moments of our youth when we had the opportunities to observe. Color. Texture. Aroma. All part and parcel of our what and how we ate.
Back then, I bought probably more potatoes than needed and a pound of Oscar Meyer bacon. We peeled the potatoes and cubed them into bite sized chunks, then set them to boil with water. I fried up the bacon, cooled enough to handle, and crumbled it into bite-sized pieces that were tossed into the bubbling pot.
When the spuds were tender, Tom said to add milk. This was in the days where we used whole milk. Skim was for when you were sick. I knew enough to not let the milk boil.
All pretty easy so far, don’t you agree?
The “iffy” part was making what Tom called egg curdles, which didn’t sound very appetizing to me then, nor does it today. I call them dumplings.
Cracked an egg into a bowl and scramble. That part really went well. It was when I needed to add the flour that things, shall we say, grew tense. Tom had no idea and I had no frame of reference. We worked together with me adding flour a tablespoon at a time until it looked like Tom thought it should look. I made dough balls and dropped them into the hot milk.
It turned out pretty good, though the curdles/dumplings were a bit too big. Practice makes perfect, and so, slowly but surely, this comforting concoction has gotten better and better over the years.
It was particularly good on Saturday night.
So here, dear reader, is the basic recipe, which some of you asked for. My sister-in-law added minced onions. I think she sautéed them first. Leeks or shallot would also enhance the flavor. I don’t add salt, bacon takes care of that, but, I do add freshly ground pepper. This is based on the approximations that I used the other night. It made enough for several hearty servings the first night and leftovers, which mellow the flavors and taste even better
Tom and Penny’s Potato Soup
Cooked bacon broken into bite-sized pieces
4 large baking potatoes, washed, peeled, and cubed into bite sized pieces
Enough water to cover potatoes in pan
Boil until the potatoes are fork-tender
Add enough milk to be able to add dumplings and simmer until hot
2 eggs, beaten, in medium-sized bowl
Add about one cup of flour, a few tablespoons at a time, until dough forms a soft ball and pulls away from sides of the bowl
Drop by small spoonfuls into soup until done. (only a few minutes)