Tastes of the Region #12: Creamy Winter Vegetable Soup

This periodic column, Tastes of the Region, details local dishes from across Upstate New York, from the ethnically-inspired meats of Buffalo to the delicious grape pie of Naples. Today, I'd like to offer up a recipie for creamy winter vegetable soup. While this recipie is something of my own creation, it is inspired by numerous old local cookbooks purchased from used book stores around the state.

The practice of varying our diets in accordance of the seasonal changes has all but vanished from mainstream life. Upstaters think nothing of eating bananas in Febuary or pumpkin pie in June; a few holiday dishes aside, there is no seasonality to our cooking because of the rapidity of modern food transport and the industrialization of the food industry. It was not always this way and a rich seasonal style of cooking developed here in the temperate zone; four seasons blessed us with the necessity of varying our diets. Much of this richness and the enforced creativity has been forgotten now that we can eat our favorite foods year round (though this is counterbalanced by the growing variety seen in the major food markets).

A growing number of people, however, have become deeply concerned over the environmental and social costs of shipping our food in from Argentina or California on a daily basis. Simply put, it takes alot of fuel to ship your iceberg lettuce overnight from the San Joaquin valley. Of course, industrial agriculture has its own environmental costs and the composite effect on our faming communities has been disasterous.

So, for those desiring a taste of winter, either to explore tastes that perhaps aren't as common today or looking to assuage their eco-guilt, I offer up my interpretation of this old Northeastern standby:

Creamy Winter Vegetable Soup
2 Tbsp Butter
2 Tbsp Flour
1 Medium Onion, sliced
2 Garlic Cloves, crushed
Salt, Pepper, Thyme, Sage, Basil
2-3 Bullion Cubes
1-2 Carrots, diced
1-2 Parsnips, diced
1-2 Turnips, diced
1-2 Potatoes, diced
1-2 c. milk

1.) In a large soup pot, melt the butter and fry the garlic and onion over medium heat until they are clear. Add 2 Tbsp flour and mix up to create what our neighbors to the north call a 'roux'

2.) Add 3 c. water, bullion and herbs. Bring to boil, simmer 5 min.

3.) Add vegetables and milk. Bring to boil, simmer 15 minutes or until thickened. Add a thickening agent (cornstarch or flour) if desired. The soup is ready to eat at this time, though it benefits greatly from a long slow simmer (stirring ocasionally). You'll want to adjust the milk accordingly to the time you simmer it so that it doesn't become too thick or burn to the bottom of the pot.

Except for the pepper, bullion and possibly salt, all of the ingredients for this recipie are traditional to the region and available in the darkest days of winter. You want to be careful not to allow the potatoes to dominate, as the flavor should be based on the parsnips and turnips.

For those interested in the environmental costs of industrial agriculture, I suggest this article. For more hints on winter cooking in the Northeast, check out this short essay. If you're interested in slowing down your life and enjoying your food a bit more, you might want to visit the Slow Movement. If I've gotten you fired up about eating local and in season, you might think about checking out the Eat Local Challenge. Best of luck and enjoy your dinner.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This recipe is exactly what I was looking for. Most of the winter vegetable soup recipes on the web use canned or frozen veggies and are quick, quick and quicker to make. Thanks for a recipe that is both old fashioned and fresh.