This is sort of a shaggy soup story:
I had a housemate back in college in Connecticut in the early '80s, an engaging but frenetic guy whose name was...well, I won't give his actual name, but it was along the lines of "Langston Birdswell Beaseley III", that sort of thing. But you couldn't call someone that, so he was called Chip. Chip came from a long line of prep school, Ivy League Beaseleys. His family had all been Andover and Yale (we'll just say), but Chip had paled at the thought of walking to classes under the august oil portraits of his forebears that lined the halls of the family's traditional alma maters, so he'd wound up at Choate (for sake of argument), and Wesleyan (for real). Chip was outgoing, upbeat, and charming--in an off-kilter way--when he wasn't sullen, withdrawn and snappish. His manic manner wasn't much abated by his frequent and copious ingestion of a variety of not very nutritional products through a variety of orifices.
When he was in the sullen, withdrawn phase, Chip didn't communicate very much at all, thankfully, but when his mood was on the upswing he jabbered pretty constantly, and the language he employed, though it bore close resemblance to conversational English, was distinctive enough that we, his four housemates, deemed it worthy of unique designation: Chippanese. Chippanese was, well, it was Chippanese. All these years later I find it difficult to produce exact examples. It was a sort of rapid-fire hipster-preppy semi-aggressive pseudo-pseudo generally confused but occasionally brilliant quasi-Kerouacian stream of consciousness, fully comprehensible--if comprehensible at all--only to Chip himself.
And the reason I bring it up here is that now, coming on 30 years since I last laid eyes on Chip (though I heard tell of him here and there in the interim), the one indelible utterance in Chippanese that stays with me these decades later, well, it has to do with soup.
We lived in a sort of townhouse just off campus, five separate bedrooms and we shared a kitchen and a common room. Young idealists that we were, some budding gourmands among us, and some strapped for cash, we decided to try sharing grocery shopping and cooking duties. Now another memory of Chip springs to mind: He owned the only car among us, an old Volvo wagon, and so we had agreed to give him a break in the cooking and clean-up duties in exchange for his driving the shopping crew back from the Waldbaum's Foodmart (Foodbaum's) in downtown Middletown, over the college hill to our house on the oaky verge of town. But Chip's attention to schedules, or to anything else, really, tended to be pretty sketchy, and we were often left waiting, as if for a manic, preppy Godot in a Volvo, in the dim autumnal New England drizzle, in the Foodbaum's parking lot as November dusk dropped down, and still no Chip, and still no Chip....
Needless to say, our experiment in communal dining did not last the year, but while it did, there was that night of the soup. I won't go on about auld lang syne much longer--though I have to admit, I'm enjoying this little bit of time travel. Let's get to the soup--or rather, "soupage." My friend Melinda (now Bide-A-Wee's Nomenclature Tsarina, among other more shining distinctions...) was one of those housemates. She was the best and most knowledgable cook among us, by far, had even run a catering business with a friend up in Maine a couple summers before. She could make things like chicken breasts in cream sauce, and knew what to do with exotic fish I'd never seen before, like mackerel and bluefish. There was nothing so exotic on the menu this fall night. It was soup, lentil soup, and I seem to recall that everyone was in a really good mood as we came in from classes or a bike ride under the brilliant autumn leaves, on a chilly damp afternoon turning to evening, assembled in the narrow kitchen and the common room lively with talk and laughter. The soup had something to do with the jovial atmosphere--the simmering pot filled the air with savory, appetizing smells; the moist warmth from the kitchen steamed the windows.
Some of us set the table, brought out bread and butter, salt and pepper. Everyone got what he or she wanted to drink. And then the soup pot came out, and Melinda started to ladle it out and pass bowls down the table. We were so hungry, the soup smelled so good, such anticipation! We were a bunch of sissy college students, but we were as hungry as farmhands. Once all the bowls were filled the talk quieted down; there was no saying of grace--this was Wesleyan!, we were intellectuals, atheists, communists, Jews, or all of the above!--but there was a moment's acknowledgment, a giving of thanks. And we dug in.
No one spoke for a minute or so. All you could hear was slurping, spoon clinking bowl, satisfied yummy sounds. Chip was the first to raise his head, set down his spoon. He took a drink from his glass, wiped his lips, and then he solemnly intoned, "Wow, Macey. That is some crazy bad soupage."
Crazy bad soupage. "Crazy bad" was, of course, the highest superlative in the Chippanese lexicon, and about all I can remember of it now. Somehow I think that's a fitting legacy. I'm going to resolve to eat more soup in 2010, and every time I do, I'm sure I'll think of Chip, Wesleyan, and Melinda's lentil soupage. Crazy bad, but wicked good.
No lentil soupage this time; I don't think we can grow lentils here. But this parsnip-leek-apple soup brings Minnesota/Wisconsin and New England together in its own way. The stuff is all ours--market parsnip and onion, garden leek, Bide-A-Wee apple, homemade stock and Cedar Summit cream--but the recipe is adapted from one by Sam Hayward of the Fore Street restaurant in Portland, Maine. Hayward was a pioneer of local, seasonal cooking in his part of the country. The restaurant has been described as one big applewood-fired grill and oven. Everything I've heard about the place inspires me, though I've never been there. I'll get there one day, maybe via Middletown, Connecticut. I found this recipe in a back issue of Saveur.
Parsnip, Leek, and Apple Soup (à la Fore Street)
Serves four to six as a generous starter or light dinner or lunch with a salad, piece of cheese....
1 Tbsp butter
1 large onion, sliced thin
1 medium leek, white and light green part, sliced thin
1/4 cup water
5 or 6 parsnips (about 12 ounces) peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
1/2 a medium celery root (about 6 ounces) peeled and diced smallish
1 medium apple, peeled, cored, quartered
5 cups chicken or vegtable stock
a bay leaf and a couple sprigs of fresh thyme, or pinch of dried
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan melt the butter over medium heat. Add the sliced onion and cook for 10 minutes, stirring often, until it is soft and translucent but not browned. Add the leek, a pinch of salt, and 1/4 cup water. Cover and cook for five minutes over low heat. Remove the lid, raise the heat to medium, and cook for another 8 to 10 minutes, until the onion and leek become quite brown, start to get jammy.
Add the parsnips, celery root, apple, thyme and bay leaf, and four cups of stock, and a couple of good pinches of salt to the pot. Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and cook partly covered until the vegetables are very soft, about 30 minutes.
Remove the thyme branches and bay leaf. Allow the soup to cool somewhat, then purée it in a blender in two batches until it is very smooth. Return the soup to the pot to reheat when you are ready to serve. It can be made at least a couple of days ahead. When you reheat it, thin it to your desired consistency with the additional stock or water. It's a thick soup, but it should flow, a little, shouldn't be like porridge. Add a few grinds of black pepper, taste for salt.
To serve, ladle out the soup and drop a pat of butter into the center of the soup. Drizzle a couple teaspoons of cream over the top, if you like. Some little rye croutons provide a nice textural contrast to the creamy soupage. Crazy bad.
(Note: Sam Hayward's recipe asks for a cup of tender sorrel or baby spinach leaves to be stirred into the soup before serving.)
Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw