Thoughts in the Heartland – Soup and its benefits

As the wind whistles through the leaky eaves of the window behind me, I find myself thinking about ways to combat the gloom of darkened skies and the chill of cold fingers. One of the best remedies has to do with something physically hot (an obvious plus), something nutritious and delicious (a rare combination!), and something typically communal (heartwarmth as a metaphorical cherry on top).

This therapy involves soup.

I love soup. I could wax lyrically about it the way Burns waxes about his Luve (though my waxing won’t be nearly as poetic. Possibly more hunger-inducing, though). While soup is a year-round treat, we largely associate it with cold months. And with a few months to go and daylight getting shorter every day until we can even begin to think about spring, soup can ably assist in bearing up our spirits and our stomachs.

I can’t pick a favorite soup. But I can tell you about a few that make me feel mushy with sentiment, weepy with gratitude, and just plain hungry with a vengeance. You’ve got some of these in your box files and memory, too, I bet.

I grew up with a very traditional chicken noodle soup, a 1970s recipe from a cookbook my mom received as a wedding gift. It’s chock full of carrots and celery and made with fresh chicken stock and egg noodles. I’ve tried other recipesa creamy version was exceptionalbut this broth-based version is a standby. When I make it, I simultaneously miss my mom and cherish her for all the times she made it.

Our family also enjoys a hearty hamburger soup, courtesy of Taste of Home. It contains potatoes and green beans, carrots and tomatoes. I like to make it extra chunky because my husband is not a thin soup fan. If soup can stand up by itself (and he’s got cheese and sausage on the side) it’s usually a winner. So this one has been medalist at our house for a while. I’ve made this one a lot as a freezer keeper for times of illness or childbirth recovery.

My mother-in-law gave me a recipe for chicken tortilla soup years ago, which includes onions, green peppers, corn, chili powder, garlic, and of course, crispy thin-sliced tortillas. It’s delectable. The first time I made it, our lunch visitors loved it and helped justify my continued insatiable appetite for it.

Does chili count as a soup? I’m going to say yes. Another frontrunner from my mother-in-law, Olson chili comes with dark red kidney beans with ground chuck, ideally with home canned garden tomatoes. I also like lots of garnish on this onegrated cheddar, sour cream, crumbled Saltines. None of us are remotely close to hungry after eating this one. And leftovers are even better than same-day bowls.

I can’t forget the cream soups, either. Growing up, I loved eating a cream of broccoli soup on New Year’s Eve. We got it from a pastor in Kentucky, who sworepardon the referenceby the half-and-half needed to thicken (and taste) it up. We agreed that if George H.W. Bush, a broccoli disliker, could ever taste this soup, his opinion would change in a heartbeat.

Here in Minnesota, a lady at our church has generously given us asparagus in the springtime. One year, she also shared her cream of asparagus soup recipe. It’s pretty basicbutter, onion, the green stuff, milk, mashed potatoes to thicken it all. But it is amazing. I’m hungry just thinking about it. And lest you think kids would never eat this, my six-year-old named this one as his favorite soup. Thanks, Faye!

The soups we love often come straight from the kitchens of pros. And this is an ancillary benefit of soup: it inspires amateur chefs to try new recipes andthis is very importantto share them. Kid-friendly cream of carrot soup for some playdate friends. Beef stew for recovering invalids. White chicken chili for a friend in low spirits.

Soup is a messy meal, or can beit’s guaranteed to be, at least a little, when small children take part. It takes time and planning to execute successfully. But it’s naturally generousit accommodates multiple people easily. Yes, its economical advantage is a reason so many programs that feed the homeless or others struggling for a meal still use it.

But we love it just as much for the people with whom we share it. Steaming bowls of soup given and received can color even the grayest fall day bright and comfortable.