It's almost July, and I'm still wearing jeans and long sleeves. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I can't abide temperatures above 80 degrees. Of course, some years, I have no choice. Mother Nature will do as she wishes, and we humble humans must simply adjust.
While warmer temperatures are difficult for me, my garden doesn't care at all. In fact, my seasonal vegetables, annual food plants, and ornamentals love hot, sunny days. Which in turn results in an abundance of home-grown food that I delight in preserving for winter, as well as eating fresh, right out of the field.
Summer recipes embrace this bounty with dishes that reflect bright, seasonal flavors. Choices like herb marinated, grilled meats and vegetables, colorful salads, and lots of seafood. Most of these meals are simply prepared and minimally cooked, often in outdoor kitchens, campfires, and barbecues.
Now that I'm in my 50s, I find I love soup. As a young housewife, I almost never made soup- and if I did, it was taken directly from my mother's arsenal of faithful Julia Child, Betty Crocker, Sunset Magazine, and Oregonian Food Section recipes. The only soup I remember from my childhood is the best vegetable beef soup you've ever eaten. There are days that I crave that vegetable beef soup so intensely, my mouth waters.
It's watering right now, just thinking of it.
But, as wonderful as that vegetable beef soup was, I don't remember her making any other kind of soup. Which, on the one hand is a tragic shortcoming in the potential richness of daily meal planning, but on the other hand, allowed me to explore, as an adult, a world of food options previously unknown to me.
Since the 1960s, restaurants and foodservice operations have cuddled up to a culinary style known as nouvelle cuisine, which eschews heavier dishes in favor of lighter fare, with an emphasis on artistic presentation. This is mostly small-portion, flavor-centric, high-cost artistic cookery. Most people wouldn't belly up to plate of nouvelle cuisine and go away full. Their wallet would certainly be empty. But as with so many things in the modern world, there is room for everything; choices and options being even more paramount than the food itself.
I've never been partial, however, to modern ways, as anyone knows who's been following me for any length of time. I love to explore how the cooks of yesteryear did things without the benefit of electricity, modern gadgets, and products that simplify kitchen work.
As part of my summer blog project, I'm mining the few antique cookbooks I own for inspiration and fascination. One of those was written by Annie Dennis, who herself is difficult to find in historical references, her book The New Annie Dennis Cook Book having been relegated to the distinction of "forgotten books". My copy was printed in 1901 in Atlanta, Georgia, so she was certainly American, and probably from the south. As with any Victorian recipe book, entries are laid out in a narrative style, quantities and required ingredients seeming to be of little importance.
Soups were, as one would imagine, very important in the Victorian kitchen. In fact, there was an entire service course devoted to them. Cutlery and dishware was designed and produced solely for the business of consuming soup. Victorians created soups from everything, even fruits, nuts, and (shudder) reptiles. Today's recipe is taken verbatim from page 117 of Annie Dennis's Cookbook, and not only is a sweet soup, but includes bread. It sounds divine, and could certainly be utilized in a dessert course- even with fruit and cheese. I've included some of my own thoughts in italics, as these older recipes can be a bit hard to work with for those used to modern recipes.
Annie Dennis's Almond Soup
A dainty soup is made from a quarter of a pound of blanched and ground almonds (modern grocery stores carry "almond flour" which could easily be used), one quart of milk and a little sugar. (probably about 3/4 - 1 cup) Set over a slow fire (if you're not cooking on a woodstove, medium to low on an electric stove would suffice, the use of a double boiler is most helpful) and when it has come slowly to a boil, stir in the yolks of two eggs, and pour the whole over thin slices of toast. A little rose or orange flavoring enhances the taste of this delicious soup.
This seems to be an almost custard like creation, and could probably be strained and thinned a bit with heavy cream. However, it's fun to revisit the Victorian kitchen with all authenticity before making modern adjustments.