Scrappy Chef, the regular column contributed by Joanne Blais, has become quite popular in The Rangeley Highlander and so we have decided to share parts 1, 2 and 3 of her “Souperishing” piece from the past for newer readers. 

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Souperishing! (from 1920’s Great Irish Famine)…1890 to now…

It is so cold outside and with the first breath of cold air weather, cooks start thinking about new and wonderful soups. As you sit down to a nice bowl of hot soup, have you ever wondered about the history of soup?  The exact roots are unknown, but many historians feel that where many locations that claim “soup” as their own.  The art, combining various ingredients into a large pot to create a nutritious, filling, easy digested simple food is inevitable.  It is the perfect choice for sedentary and traveling cultures, rich and poor, healthy and ill. Soups have evolved around regions, availability of ingredients and healthy proportions. The history is as old as the art of cooking.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “soup” as “a liquid having a base, a meat, fish or vegetable stock, being clear or thickened to a consistency of a puree, or having milk or cream added, and often containing pieces of solid food, such as meat, shellfish, pasta and an array of vegetables.”

Commonly known Fannie Farmer Cookbook puts it this way: “Soup may be thick or thin, hot or cold, subtle or spicy, jellied, pureed, or creamed. It may be as clear as glass or full of chunky bits of vegetables and meats.  Some soups derive their essential flavors from a rich stock: others depend on milk or water to capture the pure taste of the ingredients. Certain soups can be cooked in thirty minutes (some do not even take cooking), but others require hours of slow simmering and taste better when they’ve been left to “mellow” in the refrigerator overnight.”

There are several types of soups: bisques, borsch, bouillabaisse, consommé, gazpacho, minestrone, vichyssoise, as well as stews and chowders.  The FF cookbook does not define a stew, but Webster’s describes stew as “food prepared by stewing (to boil slowly or with a simmering heat) in liquid (as water or milk); especially: a combination of fish or meat usually with vegetables prepared in this way.” Chowder is a soup or stew of seafood, clams or white fleshed sea fishes, usually made with milk, cream and containing salt pork or bacon, onions and potatoes and sometimes-other vegetables.

Technological advancements starting back in the 1800’s allowed “soup” to take the many forms it has through the ages regionally, nationally and historically. For example, as in the title of this column, “Souperishing” refers to the practice of Bible societies during the Irish Great Famine, feeding the hungry in exchange for religious instruction.

This is a “recipe to repeat” and add to your meal rotation.

Slow Cooker Beef and Lentil Soup

25 minutes for prep.          8 hours cook time

2 tbsp. olive oil, divided

1 pound boneless beef, chuck, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1/3 cup red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon works well)

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup thinly sliced leeks, or use onions

1 cup thinly sliced, peeled carrot

1 tsp. minced garlic (or more to taste, because we love garlic!)

3 cups beef broth (recommended, canned or boxed, or 2 pkgs. of beef dry onion soup)

3-4 cups water (start with 3)

1 14.5-ounce can petite diced tomatoes

1 cup dried lentils (or barley)

1 bay leaf

3 cups fresh spinach, stems trimmed and discarded (Swiss chard with no ribs and chopped works well too).

1 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano (or switch it up and use Herbs de Provence, mixed herbs)

Salt and pepper, to taste.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet, over medium heat, and brown beef on all sides, 6-7 minutes. Add wine to deglaze the skillet, scraping all those yummy brown bits from the bottom (flavor, flavor!). Put meat and juice into your slow cooker.

Wipe your pan out with a paper towel, add olive oil, heat to medium. Add celery, leeks, and carrots to the skillet and cook, until vegetables soften, about 4-5 minutes.  Stir in the garlic, cook and stir another minute and transfer to the slow cooker.  Add broth, water, tomatoes, lentils and bay leaf, cover and cook on low for 7-8 hours or on high for 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

When you are ready to serve your soup, remove the bay leaf, and stir in the spinach and oregano, taste and add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with large crusty bread, 4 servings.

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Souperishing, Part 2

“Soup is to the meal, what the hostess’s smile of welcome is to the party…~A prelude to the goodness to come.”~

~Louis P. De Gouy

Soup making is older than it is thought to be known. There is evidence of existence far back as the Stone Age.  Boiling was not a common cooking technique until the invention of a waterproof vessel or container in the form of rock or clay, animal hides, bark or reed baskets used to form the vessel. Cooking was done on hot rocks as wood was not commonly used, thinking the components of trees or shrubs was more in thought of a plant used for nutrition.

The word “soup” comes from French Soupe, (“Soup-Broth”) which comes through Vulgan Latin “Suppa,” meaning bread soaked in broth, or from a Germanic source also “Sop.” in which a piece of bread used to soak up a thick or fluid liquid.

Soups’ main ingredients are characterized as liquid (stock, juice, water), combining meat and or vegetables and other delightful ingredients in many variations of flavors.

In traditional French cuisine, soups are classified into two groups. The established French classification of clear soup includes bouillon and consommé, and the thick soups depending on the thickening agent used, such as starch in purees, creams with béchamel sauce and volutes thickened with eggs, butter or cream.  This opened the doors to many colonies using what they had available to them and creating their own special brand, style or flavor of soup. Many of the modern soups made nowadays include a diversity of ingredients from the garden, and combination of flavor profiles that now include the use of pumpkin, carrots, squash, sweet potatoes etc., and are in close resemblances to stews, or “stoops,” as we call them.

First used in Paris, the word “rest-orstifs” (something restoring) referred to a highly concentrated, inexpensive soup, (pot-au-feu) sold by street vendors that was advertised as an antidote to physical exhaustion and ailments.  In 1765, a Parisian entrepreneur opened a shop specializing in such soups. This prompted the use of the modern word “restaurant” as an eating establishment.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., the first colonial cookbook was published in 1742 by William Parks in Virginia. This, based on “The Accomplished Gentlemen’s Companion,” included several recipes for soups and bisques that immigrants from other countries and nationalities “gifted” to America, introducing a serious list of types of soups, including Vietnamese, Polish, Italian, Jewish, Hungarian, Mediterranean to Mexican, Greek and on and on.

In the very late 1800’s, Dr. John T. Dorrance, was a chemist who invented the method of producing concentrated food by adding water or milk. Making giant leaps forward in the soup game, soon Dr. Dorrance and Campbell Soup capitalized on this discovery and, by 1911, they received national distribution and acclaim and soon there were advancements in manufacturing and science and increased product availability. Soups leaped into much popularity and this enabled soup to become a sensation, making Campbell’s a household name. This didn’t discourage the home chef, who still made delicious soups.

The following recipe is taken from the French era, of the thick soup category, fresh vegetables and Poulet simmered in a creamy and fresh tasting, filling soup for any night of the week.  Enjoy this marvelous chowder.

Chicken and Corn Chowder

15 Minutes  prep time, cook time 8 hours in a crockpot

4 slices bacon diced

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into 1 inch cubes

12 ounces diced red potatoes

1 lg. onion diced

3 carrots. peeled and diced

2 lg. stalks celery diced

2 cups corn kernel, frozen or canned

4 cups chicken broth

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp. thyme

1/2 tsp. oregano

1/2 tsp. paprika

1 bay leaf

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 tbsp. butter

2 tbsp. corn starch

2 tbsp. chopped chives

Heat a large skillet over med. high, cook bacon until brown and set aside, when cool, chop finely.

Place chicken in frying pan, brown all sides, and place into crock pot. Put celery, onions, carrots, garlic in frying pan and cook slightly for 5-6 minutes. Wisk flour or corn starch with 1/2 cup of 1/2 and 1/2 and stir to make roux, 3-4 minutes. Remove and pour into crock pot, add diced potatoes and corn, add broth, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, season lightly with salt and pepper.

Cover and cook on low heat for 8 hours or high heat for 4 hours. When potatoes are cooked, add remainder of half and half, butter (during last 30 minutes of cooking). Stir gently and add chives and more chopped bacon if on hand and serve immediately.

8 servings

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Souperishing, Part 3

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”    — James Beard

Since the 1990’s, the can soup market developed rapidly, mostly due to the fact that the “1940’s moderned”  housewife, representing the majority of American consumers of the decade, could add a little liquid to prepare something ready to eat right away instead of spending a couple hours dicing, chopping and making broth.

Canned soup was marketed as economical and easy to prepare, offering “convenience” and making it a popular choice for lunch. The most fashionable canned soups in America included chicken noodle, tomato, and cream of mushroom. Today, we consume more than 2.5 billion bowls of these choices alone yearly.

Dried soup mixes were thought to have been more a discovery than an invention. Egyptians used the desert temperature and sun to dry their food sources until the Middle Ages, when Europeans were designing the building blocks to specifically dehydrate food to keep it from spoiling. At this point in history, thanks goes to French inventors, Masson and Chollet. They developed a mechanized process of drying food with air and compressing it into cakes or particles. Now, that may not sound palatable to us, but was very welcomed to sailors and combat troops, during World War II as a welcomed source of nutrition.

American housewives would have nothing to do with dried food and its rebirth was not recognized until the 60’s, when campers and hikers threw it into their backpacks and were able to provide themselves proper nutrition while on the trail, on a boat excursion or camping in the remote woods. The military continued and perfected the use of freeze dried food packs, popularizing “MREs,” to feed the troops outside base.

The development of scientific and technological advancements allowed soup to take on many forms such as canned, microwavable, instant, western-style, dehydrated, boxed, all portable and easy to prepare. After the 1960’s, canned soup became common in the kitchen pantry. In late 1980’s, almost all regions and nationalities shared many variations and recipes using canned soups or broths, maintaining their popularity.  History confirms children as well as adults eating alphabet soup have fun making words with the little letters.  It was said that parents thought their children were extremely gifted because they were”soup word spelling” at early ages.

As a common example of American cuisine, soup is now described as comfort food. Specialized soups in 2016 can be accounted for a 35-40% margin in restaurants across the country, with almost 30 different categories of soups.

Soup stands alone as a meal or often complements a meal. A big pot of soup on the stove, filling the house with wonderful aroma is healthy and filling. Whether you open a can or make homemade soup, it is and always will be part of our everyday lives.

This soup is one of Mama’s favorites, it is one of those recipes you can sit down to and eat as much and often as you want and feel great!   It is flavorful, low in calories, packed with vegetables, reheats well, and is perfect at any time.

Cabbage Soup

1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil

1  small head of green cabbage, roughly chopped

3-4 carrots, sliced or diced, your preference

3 celery stalks, sliced or diced

1 med/lg.  onion, sliced or diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 1/2 cups of frozen or fresh green beans

1 (14.5 oz.) can petite diced tomatoes

6 cups chicken broth plus 1 cup of water

(If you are making a beef cabbage soup, then you would use the broth from your beef cut, or use the 6 cups of beef broth and 1 cup of water.)

2  tsp. Italian seasoning

Salt and pepper, to taste

3 tbsp. minced fresh parsley

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Sautee onions, carrots and celery for about 6 minutes, add the garlic and stir one more minute.  Stir in cabbage, green beans, broth, seasoning and lightly season with salt and pepper.  Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until veggies are tender, about 15-20 minutes. Season to taste, add parsley and serve warm.  For meat version, you can use ground beef, or cook shank bones, neck bones, cubes beef stew.  Cook your meat tender before adding all your vegetables. Enjoy!

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Have fun making delicious soup; if you have a recipe you want to share drop me an email: [email protected]

Happy Fooding!

Chef Scrappy


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