Soup’s On!


To my chagrin, the days are getting colder. Winter is here, and that means soup weather. So last night, I pulled out my grandmother’s recipe for cheddar-potato soup. It’s delicious and fairly easy to make.

The recipe begins, of course, with potatoes, which I distinctly remember selecting, placing in a produce bag, and dropping into a shopping cart. After that, the memory gets a little fuzzy. Alas, there were no potatoes in the house. So off to the grocery story I stormed for four lousy potatoes.

Back to the kitchen. Four medium potatoes, peeled and cubed; one medium onion, diced; and 1 cup sliced carrots are simmered in 3 cups of chicken broth until tender. Stirring the pot of vegetables brought back memories of my first attempt at this recipe. What a mess it was.

The first steps are easy provided you can slice veggies without slicing off a digit! But worry not. There was no blood in the pot. In a carrot cake once – but that’s another story. Anyway, when the veggies are tender, the recipe says to add 3 ½ cups of milk, stirring constantly. Then add 4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Stir constantly. DO NOT BOIL.  And therein lies the rub.

When I first attempted this recipe, I simply could not get the cheddar to melt without bringing the soup to a boil. I turned the heat up, and the soup began bubbling. I turned the heat down, and the cheese stopped melting. What to do?

I did what every struggling cook ought to be able to do. I called my grandmother.

“Granny, I’m making your cheddar-potato soup.”
“Oh, good for you.”
“Actually, not so good. I am stirring like crazy but the cheese won’t melt. When I turn up the heat, the soup starts to boil.”
“Well, don’t let it boil. Turn the heat down and keep stirring. It will be fine.”
“Ok. Thanks.”

I fiddled with the burner and kept stirring. I had a bad feeling about this soup. So I did what I always do when I have a bad feeling. I called my father.

“Hi, Daddy. What are you up to?”
“Just watching TV. You?”
“Making soup. It’s not working too well.” And once again, I explained the heat up – heat down problem.
Like any good son-in-law, he said,
“Have you called your Granny?”
“Yes.”
“Well, just do what she told you. It will work out fine.”

I kept stirring and called my sister. This was a three-phone-call pot of soup.
“This soup is not working.”
“Have you called Granny?”
Of course. And Daddy.”
“What’s he going to do?”
“I don’t know, but he’s a good listener…. You’re no help. See you later.”

By this time, I was tired, hot, and frustrated. The cheese obviously was not going to melt properly. And the potatoes were disintegrating. My husband arrived to find me sitting on the kitchen counter, book in one hand, soup ladle in the other, stirring madly.

We gave up, turned off the stove, and put the pot in the fridge. The next morning I checked the pot and found a solid, starchy, white-and-orange mass of potatoes and cheddar cheese. I turned the pot over the trash can, gave it a good thwack, and the “soup” popped out in one piece.

I am not sure what went wrong that night. A rickety old cooktop? Skim rather than whole milk? Mainly a less-than-skillful cook. But I am happy to report that last night’s efforts went much better. I have learned a few things since that first attempt. The key is the milk. It must be heated slowly and thoroughly before the cheese is added. Then the shredded cheddar should be added one handful at a time, stirring and allowing each addition to melt. The white soup will gradually turn a lovely shade of pale orange.

I wish I could have called my grandmother last night to say, “I’m making your soup, and it worked.” But somehow I think she knows. Perhaps she was watching over my shoulder whispering, “Just keep stirring. It will be fine.”

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