Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Snow Soup Story

Saturday, 13 November, 2010

The first snow of the season came in last night, continuing through the morning in fits and starts, and on into the afternoon. It's extremely heavy snow, carrying twice as much moisture as an average snowfall--heart attack snow, its grisly nickname from the extra exertion required to shovel it. The kind of snow that also takes out tree limbs, hence power lines, and we heard on our battery-powered radio that thousands of homes were without power in the Twin Cities. We are at Bide-A-Wee, and so have no worries about losing power, as no wires connect us to the grid here. But we had our own concerns.

The original predictions said we’d only get an inch or two here, so I la-di-dahed it and didn’t bother moving the car to the top of our very steep driveway last night. Looking out in the morning, then, it was a rude awakening to see a good three or four inches of this very wet, slushy stuff turning the gravel drive into a quagmire. By that time it was nearly too late; fortunately I can stress the nearly. It took a good twenty minutes of up and downing it in the front-wheel-drive Jetta, strategic snow removal and gravel placement, and finally just gritting my teeth, gripping the wheel for dear life, and gunning it until the car surmounted the steepest pitch and I made it to the top.

With the snow rarely ceasing all day, we might have been there till spring.... Well, we didn’t really have anywhere we needed to be, but we were nearly out of candles, our main source of light, and also a friend had called to say he had some fresh eggs for us. I was eager to get those, so I did drive out in the afternoon, and only our town road was at all treacherous by then, the main roads clear. I got the eggs and had a cup of tea with Don, then proceeded into the town of Bloomer, about a 20-minute drive from the cabin. Bloomer has a couple of full-size grocery stores, but those stores yielded all of five white tapers, or tapers of any color, for that matter. I could have stocked up on scented jar candles, however.

With our oil lamp, a propane camp lantern, and strategically placed tea lights we’re sitting in romantically rustic lighting, a picture from more than a century back in technology, except that I am writing this on an Asus netbook, and Mary is reading Huckleberry Finn on her brand new Kindle, the electronic reader.

At least dinner will be a decidedly low-tech affair. Soup on the Haggis, our very basic woodstove, is on the menu, with some Wisconsin cheese and homemade levain bread. I took a downright peasant approach to the soup, and I hope it won’t offend any real peasants out there to learn that I didn’t even start with a clean pot. Last night I cooked up a batch of sauerkraut--choucroute, to give it a tonier Alsatian turn--that made a bed for legs of duck confit. I put some bacon rind in with the fermented cabbage, some carrot, onion, garlic, thyme, and we steamed some potatoes in there, too.

We ate pretty much all of it, but in the morning I saw that there were some odd bits of carrot, scraps of cabbage, and a couple pieces of potato left in the pot, along with the squares of bacon rind. Though we moved the pot to the side of the stove, it started to sizzle once I’d stoked the Haggis, and it smelled so good, well, I just couldn’t bear to toss the remnants out. In China there’s a tradition of master stocks, broth pots that are never emptied but merely added to in perpetuity. Our dutch oven didn’t have that sort of provenance, but I figured reusing that carried-over patina of ‘kraut and bacon fat would get my soup off to a running start.

So as the afternoon light faded, which never had glowed very brightly all day, a leaden November sky right through, we put some more sticks on the fire, gathered an armload of vegetables from the cooler and larder, and slid the soup pot back on the heat. The bacon rind began to sizzle again, and I added another strip of rind and a fat rasher diced. Then carrot, onion, leek, celery root tops and some of the root itself; kale, tomato, garlic, a dried red chili, and a couple of good forkfuls of ‘kraut straight from the jar, unrinsed. A splash of dry vermouth, water, salt and pepper, and last, a few slices of acorn squash.

And there it simmers, while the woodstove chimney ticks, the dogs doze, and sleety snow now and then scrapes at the windows. The radio just turned itself off; it was tuned to Mountain Stage, an excellent music variety show from West Virginia that we listen to on WOJB radio 88.9, “Woodland Community Radio” from the Lac Court Oreilles Ojibway reservation in Reserve, Wisconsin.

So that’s been our day, the first white one of the winter. Oh, add in a nice walk around the newly snow-draped hills, during which our young dog, Lily, covered a hundred times as much ground as the rest of us; senior griff Annabel, now 12, was also rejuvenated by the snow day. That soup, it won’t be any sort of culinary triumph, except that I know it will be perfectly delicious, and exactly what we want to eat. Great food doesn’t have to be complicated, or require too much thought or effort--that's the beauty of wonderful, seasonal ingredients. Sometimes, it doesn’t even have to start with a clean pot....

Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw


el said...

I am glad to see a picture of the hallowed Haggis. Simple is as simple does...makes me reconsider my own choice of woodstove, frankly (the one in my mind, not in any real space).

Frankly I am kind of intrigued by the idea of a master stock. And for those who say ick to the idea of leftover stuff in a pot, well, what do you think your great-grands ate then in the era before central heating? BaW is at least chilly enough, and that Haggis will make things hot enough, to keep any really malicious microbes at bay, I'd think.

And I didn't grow celeriac this year! (Gave myself a year off all of them: fennel, parsley, celery too, as they tend to just plant themselves anyway.) but now I miss it...there's nothing like a slice of celeriac, such a clean crunch.

angie said...

Hi Brett,

I was in Wisc this past weekend and kept hearing that NW Wisc was in for a doozy of a storm. I see you got it. :)

Love the idea that you didn't clean out the pot.

Trout Caviar said...

Well I never actually saw one of those perpetual soup pots when I was teaching in China 20 years back, but I did observe this curious phenomenon: That was the time when affluence was just starting to spread in China, at least in the cities, and everyone wanted "The Big Three" coveted purchases--a TV, a washing machine, and a refrigerator. The TVs and washing machines got plenty of use, but folks seemed less certain about what to do with the fridge, and more than once, after dinner at the homes of friends or colleagues, I saw them take leftover cooked food from the table, place it in a storage container, walk right past the fridge, and stick the container in a cupboard! I recall looking into the fridge of one fellow teacher, and seeing basically nothing in there, and in the freezer, a small container of ice cream and some Popsicles. So, there ya go.

As El points out, before refrigeration there was...no refrigeration, and somehow humankind survived. Not to say I'm going to give up my fridge any time soon. And, as far as that goes, at the cabin we now have a very, very large refrigerator call "The Great Outdoors...".

We loves us our Haggis, but it is not perfect. It's really tough to get it to hold a fire through the night, and this time of year to get it hot enough for cooking we have to start opening windows and doors. But that's more a function of the cabin being so small, I guess. It's hard to find a stove rated to heat less than 500 sq. ft., and even the newly spacious Bide-A-Wee is just 300.

So the snow missed you down in the SW, Angie? Too bad.... But, you know, you'll get yours soon enough(!).

Cheers~ Brett