Tale of the Cream of Celery Soup
Don’t you love it when two challenging different topics somehow merge together in a common solution? Recently, one of these topics, what to do with an overabundance of celery?
Just last week Aunt Betty, a woman I’ve grown to admire more and more over the years was over to lunch. A bit uncommon when my highly energetic, non-complaining Aunt, spilled a few tears here and there over our meal sharing on a couple ailments recently troubling her.
This is when she also spilled out that she would be turning eighty-eight the following week. The thing is, I’m not sure if she really was turning eighty-eight, or a year or two less, it just came out, and she didn’t bother to alter.
I’ve since been reflecting on this interaction, and the truth is, among the smallest of points is that her precise age doesn’t really matter to me, mainly because Aunt Betty already gets the highest esteem in my book, given all of the pure loving good she has imparted throughout her life, and the countless meals she has so generously prepared and shared among many.
Besides, as I’ve once before written, Aunt Betty possesses such a joyous nature that even enabled the ability inspiring a bar full of young people to get on up on their feet and dance forming whole Conga Lines while leading the band at any given establishment.
If Aunt Betty told me she was turning one-hundred I still wouldn’t even consider to question her memory, for rather I am convinced it continues to be perfect, sharper than ever, in fact, and wiser than ever for all that is most important and then some.
I know lots of folks do this in the spring, and maybe you are one too.
Filled with optimism of the season when everything from flowers to vegetables all look so pretty fresh, and tempting you then add these extra choices onto your garden center cart for planting only to return home, unload the goods, and scratch your head, reflecting on just why you thought purchasing all these extra choices could possibly be a good idea.
For the fall garden planting I did it again. I didn’t purchase just one brown, recyclable, cardboard plant box of celery, I got two. After all, celery grows perpendicular, right. How much room can two rows of celery take up?
Actually, celery does not take up that much room and two lined rows does look quite attractive in their growth topped with bright green colored leaves resembling overgrown Italian parsley. The real question becomes what to do with so much crop?
Growing celery is not like growing summer tomatoes or peppers, or green beans for that matter, where you merely pluck off the growth and given you have too much pass extras along to your family, friends, or neighbors.
Celery at its harvest needs to be dug out of the ground, and, before the onset of too much frost.
This occurs about the time folks aren’t leisurely strolling around the neighborhood as in the warmer months and it seems as if on cue even permanently close their garage doors anticipating the seasons frost ahead.
Whereby then, you can’t easily shout out in your most neighborly voice, ‘Hey Joe, need some celery?’ and so on. I’ve yet to see a local farm sell filled bushels or boxes of celery. Yes. Many of us always use celery for a variety of dishes, but in limited quantities.
Last week, the day before my Mom and me were taking Aunt Betty out for her special eighty-eighth birthday luncheon, give or take a year. No Matter. Anyway, the day before was the big celery dig out requiring me to line my biggest and longest tailgate cooler with ice and water followed by literally having to stuff in these so many stalks of abundance.
One of the unspoken traditions in my family has always been sharing food, and its form now comes in different ways as family members have grown older. When Aunt Betty visits, besides a couple containers of frozen, fresh, chicken broth, I’m always sure to set aside some of those food items she values but no longer purchases in quantity, a few carrots, a couple of onions, a few stalks of celery, fresh parsley, assorted herbs, those type ingredients that she enjoys as a part of carefully preparing her evening meal each morning before setting off on her busy, daily, social activities.
This brings me to another of the two recently challenging topics, mainly, sifting through the recipe contents of Aunt Betty’s little gold box, presented to me on another of our lunch occasions a few months back. The little gold box contains recipes of lots of treasured baked goods, including a variety some from other relatives past, but then, confusingly included, recipe clippings from other sources that perhaps to her sounded good at the time. The challenge became that among all of the wonderful homemade dishes Aunt Betty prepared over the years, though some of the source recipe clippings looked interesting, even providing a sense on what was being prepared through time, she never prepared any of these dishes as part of her repertoire over the course of so many years. I had hoped for more recipes on what she had really cooked. I felt relieved that I had at least replicated her carrots mashed with baby fall turnips dish in a blog post and recipe last year, but certainly not reconciled, given the power of this woman’s cooking while growing up. In a gentle way I did mention this problematic situation on the contents stuffed within the little gold box at Aunt Betty’s Birthday luncheon at the restaurant with my mom but she really didn’t respond much before we moved on to another topic.
It was some hours later when packing up her small take-away package back at my house; a couple containers of frozen, fresh, chicken broth, a few carrots, a couple of onions, fresh parsley, assorted herbs, and then, from the big tailgate size cooler pulling out a giant size bunch of lusciously scented fresh celery with bright green leaves that looked like overgrown Italian parsley Aunt Betty responded to my earlier challenge.
“Peggy Ann” she said, expressing sheer delight on such a large quantity of the long, bright green stalks, “Do you remember when I used to make a pot of Cream of Celery Soup when I had a lot of celery years ago.” “Cook up that celery in some butter and onion, add some chicken stock.” then, intermittently inquiring like a loving Aunt if I then had enough chicken broth or would I like for her to leave what was set out to give her. No. I had plenty. “Then run the cooked celery and onions through the food mill, make a nice white sauce, stir it gently through the soup making it nice and creamy, and chop up some of those beautiful celery leaves in there too.” “This will make a wonderful Cream of Celery Soup.” And there I had it.
Two challenging different topics somehow merged together in a common solution. I never knew Cream of Celery Soup could taste so amazingly good. An overabundance of celery, and one little gold box recipe special, classic of Aunt Betty’s homemade cooking. And that is the Tale of the Cream of Celery Soup.
- 5 tablespoons butter
- 7 stalks celery, tough strings removed, chopped fine
- 1/4 cup celery leaves, chopped, 3 tablespoons reserved for garnish
- 6 baby leeks, sliced in half lengthwise, thinly chopped, then carefully washed
- 1 shallot, chopped fine
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2 tablespoons all purpose flour, evenly measured
- 3 cups chicken stock (vegetable stock may be used)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup heavy cream
- kosher salt, a couple generous pinches over the celery mixture while cooking, then to taste once soup is finished
- couple generous pinches cracked black pepper or white pepper over the celery mixture while cooking
- In a large sized enameled cast iron pot, melt butter on very low heat then add in the celery, chopped celery leaves, leeks, shallot, and bay leaves, sprinkle in a pinch each of salt and pepper, stir. Cook celery mixture on very low heat for around thirty five minutes, stirring occasionally
- Add in smoked paprika, stir, and cook for two minutes
- Sprinkle in the flour and cook for another three minutes
- Pour in the chicken stock, add in the bay leaves, increase heat to medium and cook soup for another thirty five minutes, approximately, turn off heat. Working in batches, crank the celery mixture with some liquid through a food mill placed over a glass bowl, being sure to scrape the mesh on the bottom with a spatula now and again while continuing to process the soup. Once ingredients have gone through the food mill, pour the collected soup in the glass bowl back into the pot
- Heat soup again then pour in heavy cream, stir through
- Check seasoning adjust to taste
- Garnish with reserved chopped celery leaves