Soupy Comfort, Take 2

And now to finish yesterday’s post interrupted by unknown forces of evil* living inside my computer:

Lately I dream of change. Last night, for instance, I was driving down the Red Hill Road. This is the road that runs just south of our farm, through other farms that don’t have the misfortune to be located on a major trucking route. My father used to take me on “driving lessons” there most Sunday mornings while I was a teenager (a happy journey for me, a heart-stopping, dry-mouthed ordeal of terror for him). And so the route reminds me of security and good conversations with my dad (as he clung helplesslessly to the armrest, his foot pressing futilely on the invisible, utterly useless passenger-side brake).

Anyway, in my dream the Red Hill Road was a scene of devastation brought about by “progress”–forested areas blackened from fire in preparation for housing developments that were coming in and bright new gas stations with inky, freshly paved parking lots. Everything we grew up with was gone–the old schoolhouse from my grandfather’s generation, the McKay farm, the little cemetary next to the tiny Methodist church. Naturally I was distressed, but I don’t remember much else except that I tried to turn around in one of the gas station parking lots to go back to a part of the road that had not changed. I don’t know if I got back or not.

Even the cats could interpret that one–fear of the change involved in moving, fear that change will be destructive, desire to go back to the way things were. But even in the dream it was obvious that the change wasn’t going to stop and that I had to accept it–and that at least there was a place to stop for gas on the Red Hill Road.

At 42, I might, just might, be starting to grow up. But not so much that I don’t love potato soup.

When I was a child, long before I terrified my poor father behind the wheel of a 1972 Ford Galaxy 500, potato soup was a favorite comfort food–Campbell’s potato soup, that is. My grandmother, a fabulous cook who grew, canned, and preserved nearly everything the family ate, was also possessed by a strange post-Depression fascination with highly processed, heavily marketed foods. Pouring through the local newspaper, Mammaw loved nothing better than to try a new recipe that involved mixing together multiple canned products or adding Cool Whip, even as milk from our cow sat curdling in the churn, waiting for her to make butter. (Anyone who’s ever churned butter or canned green beans or cut corn from a cob will understand the attraction of such a recipe.)

At any rate, Campbell’s soup, especially potato, was one of those foods, and I shared her love for it. I begged for it nearly every day, sometimes more than once. I loved the creamy texture and the tiny bits of potato-like substances that floated in a sea of milky glory. I wanted nothing more in life than to have Campbell’s potato soup every single day.

And then I hit a wall. One day Mammaw opened up the can and heated it up as usual. I cannot remember how many meals in a row had involved potato soup, but it was many. And when the bowl was put in front of me, it was suddenly transformed into a gluey, fake-tasting, disgusting mess. Such is the five-year-old appetite. I have not eaten Campbell’s potato soup since.

I have a vague memory that my disgust with Campbell’s was the result of Mammaw making homemade potato soup one day, which spoiled me for anything else. Whether that’s true or not, it’s definitely the case that Campbell’s fall from grace did not put me off potato soup altogether. Potato soup remains a favorite comfort food, one that reminds me of a time when someone was making homemade butter and Cool Whip-infused desserts just for me. And what better time to make it when you are traveling down a new road with blackened trees and new gas stations that nevertheless holds the promise of something just a bit better beyond the curve.

Potato Soup with Bacon

8 slices bacon, sliced into 1″ pieces
1 large onion, chopped
6 medium Yukon gold or russet potato
Water to cover potatoes
About 1/2 c half and half
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute bacon on medium heat in large pot, stirring frequently, until it just begins to crisp around the edges. Add onion and saute until translucent, stirring frequently. Add potatoes, bay leaves, salt and pepper, and just enough water to cover. Cover pot and cook on medium heat for about 3o minutes or until potatoes are tender. Add half and half–more or less depending on how thick you would like the soup.

Variation: Add 1 – 2 cups chopped cabbage for the last 10 minutes of cooking.

*There was an article in the New York Times Magazine recently that claimed the word “evil” was dropping out of colloquial use. That person clearly does not use a computer.

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