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Friday, June 24, 2011

Potato Soup

Potatoes—delicious in many ways.
The lovely and talented Miss Hayley Jane (also available at Facebook and more) is, I have learned, a fan of potatoes. Being as I have some Irish heritage, the potato is a familiar item to me as more than just a thing to mash, boil, or bake. As much as I do enjoy taking potatoes, chopping them up, boiling them up, and/or putting them in stews, I also enjoy playing with potatoes in many different manners, such as using them to thicken sauces, making them into chips (Saratoga Potatoes, which are covered well by the Culinary Chronoaviatrix,) roasting them for salads, and generally trying new and different ways to use the humble potato.

Today, I am making potato soup. Simple, clean, and delicious. There's half a million recipes for potato soups; each cookbook I have in my collection has at least one, and some have more than that. As is my style, I shall present to you a few recipes, followed by the one that I will use for tonight's little dish—an item being sold at the bookstore for Craft Night.

The Potato Harvest in Idaho, c. 1920
From Buckeye Cookery, we have the following recipe:
To one gallon of water add six large potatoes chopped fine, one tea-cup rice, a lump of butter size of an egg, one table-spoon flour. Work butter and flour together, and add one tea-cup sweet cream just before taking from the fire. Boil one hour.--Miss Lida Canby.
Simple and relatively quick, and exemplary of the one-pot cooking so commonly seen in the Age of Steam; this would make a good crock-pot recipe, with extended cooking time of course. However, I'm looking for something with a little more flavor.
Mrs. Beeton offers us several recipes:
I. 145. INGREDIENTS - 4 lbs. of mealy potatoes, boiled or steamed very dry, pepper and salt to taste, 2 quarts of stock.
Mode.—When the potatoes are boiled, mash them smoothly, that no lumps remain, and gradually put them to the boiling stock; pass it through a sieve, season, and simmer for 5 minutes. Skim well, and serve with fried bread.
Time.—1/2 hour. Average cost, 10d. per quart.
Seasonable from September to March.
Sufficient for 8 persons.
Miss Hayley Jane, Potato Fiend.
This is a rather simple recipe, combining mashed potatoes with boiling-hot stock to create a soup of appropriate texture and consistency. Clever, and to be filed away in the "things you can make at college for cheap" file. (Seriously—a bag of pre-mashed potatoes and a can of chicken stock, and you have dinner right there. Damn, I wish I'd found this recipe earlier.) Also worth noting is the distinction of mealy potatoes, as opposed to waxy potatoes. I'll address that later.
II. 146. INGREDIENTS - 1 lb. of shin of beef, 1 lb. of potatoes, 1 onion, 1/2 a pint of peas, 2 oz. of rice, 2 heads of celery, pepper and salt to taste, 3 quarts of water.
Mode.—Cut the beef into thin slices, chop the potatoes and onion, and put them in a stewpan with the water, peas, and rice. Stew gently till the gravy is drawn from the meat; strain it off, take out the beef, and pulp the other ingredients through a coarse sieve. Put the pulp back in the soup, cut up the celery in it, and simmer till this is tender. Season, and serve with fried bread cut into it.

Time.—3 hours. Average cost, 4d. per quart.

Seasonable from September to March.
Sufficient for 12 persons.
This recipe much more resembles the way that I would approach a potato soup from a modern perspective: The addition of aromatics build basic flavors, the use of a garnish item (the celery) and some rice to thicken it (which is a good substitute for roux when gluten sensitivity is at issue.) There's also meat here, to create more flavor and nutritive qualities, and although I would normally be all over that, I'm going to leave it out tonight in favor of being vegetarian. I'm also interested in the use of peas in this soup, which is definitely not something I'd be interested in using normally—a light green cast to a potato soup would strike me as recalling that green color that indicates a potato has gone bad.
III. (Very Economical.) 147. INGREDIENTS - 4 middle-sized potatoes well pared, a thick slice of bread, 6 leeks peeled and cut into thin slices as far as the white extends upwards from the roots, a teacupful of rice, a teaspoonful of salt, and half that of pepper, and 2 quarts of water.

Mode.—The water must be completely boiling before anything is put into it; then add the whole of the ingredients at once, with the exception of the rice, the salt, and the pepper. Cover, and let these come to a brisk boil; put in the others, and let the whole boil slowly for an hour, or till all the ingredients are thoroughly done, and their several juices extracted and mixed.

Time.—2–1/2 hours. Average cost, 3d. per quart.

Sufficient for 8 persons.

Seasonable in winter.
Here we see the use of bread as a thickener; rusk, or stale bread, is commonly used in more economical soups—both to use up a piece of bread on its way to being inedible, and to substitute for more expensive flour, rice, or starches; it's also a great extender, allowing you to use less of your other ingredients to achieve the same volume of soup.

Fifty Soups says the following:
Potato Soup.—Wash and peel two dozen small sized potatoes; put them into a saucepan with two onions; add three quarts of corned-beef water; boil for one hour and a half until the potatoes fall to pieces. Pour the soup through a sieve, and rub the potato through it to a fine pulp; put the whole into the saucepan again; when very hot add a pint of hot rich cream, salt and pepper, if necessary; whisk thoroughly; pour into a tureen, add croutons, and serve.
Onions, potatoes, stock, cream, salt, and pepper: a simple, yet delicious soup.

All of the recipes, more or less, follow the same formula: Cook up the potatoes, make it into a purée, and season. The addition of other ingredients varies with the tastes of the cooks, more or less.

My tastes run towards the following:

Potato Soup
1 onion, small dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 lbs (1.36 kg) russet potatoes (mealy), peeled and chopped into rough 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes
1 cup (237 ml) white rice
1 qt (946 ml) chicken stock
2 tsp (10 ml) dried thyme
1 Tbsp (15 ml) fresh chives, chopped
1 Tbsp (15 ml) fresh parsley, chopped
water as needed
salt and pepper to taste

1. Sauté the onions until they are soft. Add the garlic, and continue to cook 3-5 minutes, or until the garlic just starts to burn to the bottom and the onions are beginning to caramelize.

2. Add the chicken stock, and stir to unstick any delicious bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the herbs and salt, stir, and then add the potatoes and rice. Add water to bring the volume up to about a gallon. Bring to a boil. Cover, and boil until the potatoes are cooked through and beginning to fall apart.

3. Put through a food mill or purée with an immersion blender, and adjust seasonings as needed.

For a more rich soup, you may add cream as a finishing item.

Makes about 1 gallon.

I'd love to have some pictures of the soup to show you... but it was eaten all too quickly.


  1. Looks delightful. I love a good potato soup. It is comforting.

  2. I loved the soup, what a lovely surprise! I made a potato curry stew type thing tonight using what I had in the house, I thought of you!

  3. I'm rather fascinated by the fact that the old recipes you mention have a price per quart breakdown. How smart! It makes me wonder how difficult that would be to do with some of my current favorite recipes.

  4. The recipe I got from my granny (who got it from hers, and so on) is brilliant: Big pan of stock - ham or chicken - add chopped potatoes, leeks, onions, carrots and turnips. Simple and cheap yet wholesome and tasty.


Your opinions and comments always are welcomed, but do be civil... this isn't a kitchen, after all.