Soup from the cellars: Vermont Farm Cheddar Cheese Soup
Yesterday I reached into the potato bin and pulled out my last two potatoes. The nice thing about running out of potatoes around Groundhog Day is they’re still as firm and crisp as when pulled them from the soil four or more months ago. By April potatoes start turning soft and sprouting. The bad thing about running of potatoes before Valentines Day is there are no more potatoes until September.
It was my grandmother who taught me, standing in her woodshed which is now used for hay storage, “have half your wood, and half your hay, to get to spring from Groundhog Day.” Preferably better than half, just in case. The same holds true of your root cellar and larder. You should still have half your winter provisions on groundhog day if you expect to make it through to the first greens out of your spring garden.
And now we have no more potatoes. We’ve even eaten the seed potatoes. I lost half the crop last year to blight and rot, and this is the consequence of that crop failure. All the potatoes gone and none for spring planting unless can I buy seed stock.
For me this will sugar off into a budgeting issue. I’ll have to add another $25 to the cash I have set aside for seeds this spring. While that represents half of my weekly food budget $25 in seed potatoes will yield enough potatoes (barring blight) to see us through next winter with seed stock to spare. A good investment for the farm in 1780 and a good investment today.
Meanwhile, I have two potatoes and I want to stretch them as far as humanly possible. Mashed potatoes with garlic and sour cream is tasty, but doesn’t stretch very far. No, I need something that will stretch these two potatoes into two meals of four servings each, using what I have on hand.
LIke Mrs. McLintock’s Receipts a certain amount of translation for the modern kitchen may be required. Lovage is a perennial herb which can reach six feet in height, is incredibly hearty, and, when young, produces tender stalks which taste like celery. I can’t grow celery unless I start it indoors or buy sets, but by the same token, I can’t kill lovage. I have a plant growing at the edge of the driveway which is directly in line with where the snow is plowed. By spring it will be covered in a dense cement of ice and gravel. A month later it will have shaken off the ill treatment and be shooting defiantly back up again. So I chop lovage stalks and store them in plastic bags in the freezer. It is a much stronger flavor than grocery store celery, so where I use 1/2 C lovage, you might want to use 1 C celery. I also chop and freeze parsley in quart bags, so half a bag is about a cup of chopped parsley. I have no idea what that translates to in terms of dry parsley because I’ve never used dry.
The cheese I’m using is what we call Cabot’s Christmas Box Cheese. Cabot probably has another name for this cheese, but it appears perennially on grocery store shelves, a three pound block of Seriously Sharp or Extra Sharp cheddar in a mailing box. If you’re lucky the boxes go on sale after the holidays for less than its usual $4/pound. Cheddar becomes crumbly if you freeze it, but doesn’t lose its flavor or creamy texture in cooking. I’ll buy as much as I can afford when it hits the sale aisle, a bit of Vermont’s finest we try to make last for as long as possible. Right now I’ve got six pounds of it, and I’m going to use about an inch off the end of the block of Seriously Sharp Cheddar which is probably about 6-8 oz.
Vermont Farmhouse Cheddar Cheese Soup
2 C diced potatoes.. I don’t peel potatoes, but there’s no reason you can’t.
1 C chopped onions (I’m running low on onions as well… there’s more skins than onions in that bin right now!)
1/2 C chopped lovage from the freezer (or celery from the grocery)
2 C water
Set a pot on to boil with the potatoes, onions, and lovage until the potatoes are cooked through. Meanwhile..
Melt 3 T butter and add to it 3 T flour.. cook for a few minutes then add..
2 C milk. Cook to thicken, adding
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp dry mustard
Keep whisking as the milk thickens, and chop up your cheese. When the milk has thickened nicely add the cheese and melt it into the milk.
Your potatoes should be done. Turn off the heat and pour the cheese into the vegetables.
I freeze chopped tomatoes in 1 quart bags or old yogurt containers… or can them.. depending on what I have on hand to put them in. Add roughly 1 quart of defrosted chopped tomatoes to the pot, I think that’s probably a large supermarket can.
And 1 C chopped parsley. Since mine is frozen when it goes in it melts and retains its bright green color and some crunch.
Makes a nice sized pot of soup, enough for 4-6 large servings… and stretches two potatoes out about as far as I can reasonably expect them to go!
Just a reminder.. this recipe isn’t 18th century authentic. For experiments in 18th century cooking visit our page Outlandishly Good Food of the 18th Century