Monthly Archives: January 2008

Tomato Soup II

Okay, yesterday I put down the practical, procedural part; now for the notes and theory.

Most tomato soup recipes involve three basic steps: prepare the soup base, puree and sieve it, and finally reheat and season.

TEXTURE: We followed the program to a point, then struck out in our own, decadent direction.  Now that I think about it, we didn’t even make it all the way through step 1, since I had my usual reaction to the instructions to slip the skins and toss them, which was, Huh? And I would be doing this why precisely?

After consultation with Steve, who looked similarly blank, I decided to skip both that and the sieving required by step 2. This makes for a vastly simplified process, always a plus as I’m an enthusiastic but disorganized cook.

I’m even less clear on a motive for tossing the skins after trying it with skins on (twice now). It’s true we weren’t going for a Campbell’s creamy-smooth texture; there was actually some stuff (including pale spots identifiable as seeds! Horrors!) that settled to the bottom of the pot, or bowl, but there certainly weren’t strands or clumps of skin floating around.

GARLIC: Here’s a step I don’t recommend taking short-cuts on: garlic prep. If you toss firm cloves of garlic into the soup mix and cook them only briefly, the blender might just chip away at the outside, leaving a large and startling core for someone to chomp down on. Therefore, mash. The easiest way is to set the flat of a knife on an unpeeled clove and give it a good hard whack. This breaks the dry papery shell, making it easy to remove, and crushes the clove as well.

THICKNESS: (I first typed THINCKNESS, which seems to me to imply all sorts of possibilities.) If you’re planning to add milk or cream, cut back on stock.

Tomato Soup

In the end it wasn’t sauce I made but soup, and wow was it good! I hauled out all our cookbooks and combined a recipe from the first Moosewood with one from The Vegetarian Epicure. Here’s the result, with notes tomorrow.

The Recipe

Roughly chop 1c. onion and crush, chop, or mash 5-10 cloves garlic, depending on taste.

Sautee the onion and garlic in 3T olive oil.

Halve or quarter 7 medium tomatoes (5-6 cups), and when the onions are transparent, toss in the tomatoes.

Add 1-2 c. vegetable stock, depending on size and ripeness of tomatoes: more, riper tomatoes can be more diluted.

Simmer 5-15 min.

Puree in blender or Quisinart; return to stove.

Add: salt, pepper, basil, dash of Worstershire sauce, pinch of brown sugar. In other words, season to taste.

Thicken if desired by stirring liquid from the pot, 1T at a time, into 1-2 T flour.  Each bit of liquid should be thoroughly stirred into the flour to avoid lumps.  When the mixture is quite snooth and liquid, add it to the soup, stirring quickly and thoroughly. 

Optional: cream, milk, condensed milk or some combination of these. If you add milk or cream, do it at the very end, and DO NOT BOIL after the addition.

We had the soup with a potato souffle (also from the Vegetarian Epicure, the potatoes also from the garden–first time the home-growns have lasted so long!)–and garlic bread. Hard to beat.

Musings on the Meanings of Doors

In Which It Is Proven that you may get the Person out of the English Department, but you cannot get the English Department out of the Person

Warning: The following entry elides (or descends, depending on your point of view) into vaguely philosophical meanderings, touches on autobiographical events of no relevance to gardening, and alludes to several books, including Moby Dick and Winnie the Pooh.

Back in October, I spent approximately half-an-hour one afternoon sitting on my back step in the watery sun, staring at a piece of plastic.

Be specific, said my English teacher’s mind. What kind of plastic? But I couldn’t be specific, because I didn’t know. Polyurethane? Vinyl? Words, just words. It doesn’t matter. Get on with it.

It’s a sheet of “clear” flexible plastic, and I was trying to figure out how to make a door to the greenhouse my husband just built of it. At the moment, I was getting in and out by removing the brick that holds down one “wall” of the structure and sliding between the house wall and the plastic one. It’s not a very neat or elegant means of ingress or egress, but the half hour before the one I spent staring, I spent going in and going out. I went in to check on the tomatoes the structure was protecting (they were doing fine), and out because I was done looking, and in to look again, and out to get a chair, and in with the chair, and out again with the chair, and in to move one of the barrels because there wasn’t room for the chair, and back in with the chair, back out for my coffee, and in with the coffee, and out for my book, and in with the book—you get the idea. There was always a reason to go in or to go out, but really I was going in and going out merely for the pleasure of doing so, like Eeyore, who was so taken by the house built for him by Pooh and Piglet because he had been complaining about how “it’s not so warm in my meadow at two in the morning,” that when it was done, he went in and out, in and out.

Why? Because to do so defines the inness of the inside, to pass between the two places defines their difference, and it is that difference that defines each place, giving each its identity. (Thank you, Ferdinand de Saussure oh father of modern linguistics (who argued that no letter or sound had absolute value; each was defined only by its relationship with, its difference from, other sounds and letters, as the inside of the greenhouse is defined only by it’s difference from the outside) and to Jacques Derrida oh great deconstructionist master (who would spell it "différance," to illustrate the difference between speech and writing, for as every English grad student and most majors these days knows, "différence" and "différance" sound the same in French, despite their graphological divergence))
not to mention Herman Melville

And it was Melville who put it best, I swear, (so betraying a preference for literature over criticism that even grad school couldn’t beat out of me) for, when Queequeg is in bed with his "clean, comely looking cannibal" early in Moby Dick, warm and comfortable despite–indeed because of–his still-chilly nose, Melville says that “truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself.” How can you be clearer about having a house than by stepping outside of it to experience its absence? How can I better enjoy my new greenhouse, or prove to myself its existence, than by passing through the wall that creates it?

Wow. As Garrison Keillor has proven, once an English major, always an English major, but apparently it’s even more true of English graduate students. I haven’t been one for decades, but as the paragraph above shows, the stuff I absorbed there has a truly insidious grip on my language, my thinking (and what’s the relation between those two, hmm? Does the first in fact shape the second, à la Saussure, or can we think independently of the words we use?) Oh help. I really need that garden. Not to mention the door.

Tomato Harvest in December

A few days before Christmas I harvested my tomatoes. This is late anywhere in the northern hemisphere, but here in Montana it’s absurd. I wish I could claim credit of some sort (Breakthrough! Cold-Busting Tomato Developed! Local gardening Gardner touts cold-tolerant tomato.) But no; the late date just testifies to my late start last spring.

I did my picking in the basement, where I’d hung my vines a couple of months back, upside down and full of green tomatoes–over eighty on my finest specimen, even after I’d plucked those damaged by frost. These were soft, and a darker green than the healthy ones. I’d done everything a good tomato-mother can do to protect the plants from frost–swaddled some plants, put hoops and  plastic over others, erected full-fledged greenhouses around others–but despite the protective layers, some suffered.

So at last I conceded, pulled the plants, and hung them from the big nails in the basement beams near, not so conveniently, the washing machine and the table where I dry sweaters in winter and plant seedlings come spring. Somehow, picking in the basement lacks romance, and the crumbling leaves sticking to my sweater and drifting to the floor couldn’t compete with flexible foliage. Still, there’s something satisfying about picking tomato after ripe tomato and piling them all in a bowl in the kitchen.

As the photo shows, I also picked plenty of green tomatoes, and these are unlikely ever to ripen no matter how much I swaddle and coddle them. I’ve made green-tomato chutney before, so this year I may try green-tomato pie. As for the ripe ones–they’re probably not of salad quality but should make good sauce.


The photo is pretty true to color, and you can see that while some of the tomatoes are the classic slightly orange of  "tomato red," several lack that orange tint. These are my heirlooms, and the pity is that I don’t know the variety, since I just planted a few seeds from a package of mixed heirloom seeds. It is true though, as heirloom aficionados insist, that these tomatoes have an intensity that puts others to shame. Interesting that that intense flavor is matched by this intense color.