Friday, January 11, 2013

Very Virginia Soups

Last night, I made roasted butternut squash soup for dinner
using a pumpkin soup recipe I adapted.
The roasted squash lent a sweet flavor to the soup,
so for our taste, a meal-sized bowl was too much of a good thing.
But a small cup as an appetizer would be perfect.

I don't know where the recipe for butternut squash soup came from,
but my sense is that it is a fairly recent idea,
perhaps arising from the trend toward vegetarianism that started in the 1970s.
All I know for certain is my mother and grandmothers
would have been amused at the idea
that squash could escape its status as a side dish
and end up the star of the dinner show.
Judging from my soup, it should remain a side dish a while longer.

My opinion of squash soup is similar to how I feel about peanut soup.
It's good, but a little goes a long way and it's more satisfying as an appetizer.
Of course, peanut soup is one of those soups
 that is emblematic of Virginia cooking,
as are she-crab soup, oyster stew, and Brunswick stew.
The recipes for each are below, so try one each week in January. 
And read on to see why Brunswick stew is the subject of regional disagreement.

photo courtesy of

Peanut Soup
Saute 1/2 cup of diced celery and 1 small diced onion in  4 tablespoons of butter.
Add 2 tablespoons of flour and 2 cups of stock and bring to a boil. 
Reduce heat and add 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of cream.
For a smooth soup, strain the the soup at this point or use a hand blender.
Return to heat and whisk in 1 cup of peanut butter until smooth.
Simmer for a few minutes.

She-Crab Soup 
Heat 2 1/2 cups of stock, 1/2 pound of crabmeat.
Heat stock, add crabmeat and simmer for several minutes.
Then add 1/2 cup of cream and heat through.
Season to taste. (Some people add a little sherry during the heating).

photo courtesy of

Oyster Stew 
Combine 1 1/2 pints of oysters with liquid 
and 5 Tablespoons of butter, simmer together until oysters curl slightly. 
Add 1 cup of hot milk and 2 cups of heavy cream. Heat to just under boiling.
Season to taste.

Both of these seafood soups are pretty quick to fix, 
but they definitely require a love of milk and cream--
something I do not have, so I don't eat these.
But they are "very Virginia."

Another popular Virginia soup is Brunswick Stew.
I've been in several towns that lay claim to Brunswick Stew,
but Brodnax in Brunswick County, Virginia apparently holds the proof,
citing an 1828 hunting trip 
in which a camp cook named Jimmy Matthews 
tossed a couple of squirrels, some stale bread, 
and a few onions into an iron pot and created a new taste sensation.
According to the website
the returning hunters were reluctant to try Mr. Matthews' concoction.
Hesitation over stale bread and squirrels cooked for hours in a pot? 
Here's a more modern Brunswick Stew recipe
 that substitutes chicken for the game:

Brunswick Stew
Place 1 whole chicken cut up in a pot and cover with water.
Add 1 quartered onion, 2 ribs of diced celery, 1 teaspoon of salt and 
1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Boil the chicken until meat falls from the bone.
Remove from broth and set aside. Add 16 ounces of corn,
10 ounces of frozen butter beans, 16 ounces of canned tomatoes,
2 small potatoes cut in cubes, 1/3 cup of ketchup and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar.
Bone chicken and add meat to vegetables along with 1/2 teaspoon of tabasco sauce
and 1 teaspoon of worcestershire sauce.
The key is to cook the stew until it thickens.
Tomorrow, a few strange things one can learn from cookbooks.

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