Autumn larder – soups

 In Havering

I’m eternally grateful to live in a country which has autumns. Bringing with it a rhapsody of colours as the season progresses, nature at its finest in a final flourish before hibernation, I couldn’t imagine life without autumn. When forest greens turn to red, yellow, and brown, so my mind turns to a time of comfort; of looking out jumpers and scarves, of long woodland walks, and of soups and stews.

As a child, soup would mean either lentil with ham hough, Scotch broth, or if we were very lucky, Cullen skink; thick, hearty, and life-giving bowls bringing warmth to the soul after a day of picking leaves from the forest floor or simply endless hours of football. It can be the simplest dish in the world – a single ingredient pot bubbling on the stove. However when created with a complex symphony of ingredients, it can be elevated to a position of elegance or even greatness, such as bouillabaisse, harira or pho.

I still regularly cook the soups of my childhood, largely following my Mother’s recipes, and have included them all here. For me Scotch broth has to be made with mutton, and only barley and peas, not broth mix, while lentil soup benefits from a well smoked ham hough to give that depth of flavour that makes you return to the pot time and again.

Smoked haddock, always undyed, usually peat smoked is probably a weekly autumn visitor to my kitchen. It so many uses, pairing especially well with rice, and eggs; but Cullen skink sits top of the list. Potatoes, onions, and leeks, are all right in season, and their earthy sweetness is cut through by the delicate smoke. This is a typical Scots soup in that it’s a meal in itself rather than a starter.

Leeks and carrots are fairly ubiquitous in autumn, finding a home in cock-a-leekie, and combining perfectly in what was the first ‘exotic’ soup I can remember trying. Carrot and coriander. Coriander made an appearance in our home in the late eighties and carrot and coriander soup was firmly on the menu. It was also my first introduction to the ‘two vegetable soup’, a concept that I returned to many times in the intervening years, broccoli and courgette, and roast pepper and tomato being particular successes among many inedible concoctions.

The list of seasonal vegetables (and fruit) available throughout the country in autumn makes it the crescendo of the soup calendar. I have twinned beetroot with apple and the piquancy of horseradish; broccoli fairly classically with Strathdon blue, a creamy yet steely blue cheese from the highlands; and onions with perry in a nod to the classic French version. My ‘minestrone’ lays no claim to Italian authenticity, it’s simply a single pot soup that nourishes the soul. And one mustn’t forget the squash – an ingredient for almost every application – twinned with sweet potato, coconut, and chilli. An exotic interlude to a very Scottish soup season.

Second article in Scottish Daily Mail Autumn Larder series

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