Autumn has come early this year, even deep in the Bluegrass. I’ve found myself at the farmer’s market, lamenting the lack of beefy heirloom tomatoes and thick, dense zucchini. I walk with my big, woven African basket slung over my arm, chatting with the growers themselves and coming up with dinner ideas with their simple, no-nonsense input. These are salt-to-the-earth, dig in the dirt folks. I like to imagine some of these women in their kitchens, cutting vegetables with rust-tinged knives and kneading floured, salted dough on heavy yet worn butcher block, dusty light streaming through their mottled window panes and settling on their muscled, sun-baked shoulders. The shoulders of a woman who understands the deep connection we must have with the earth, respects it, honors it. They’ve worked in their gardens and fields and then have come in to their cool, dank kitchens to create and nourish. Of course, my notion of these women may be entirely off, but I quite like my romantic, conjured visions of them and their lives after they pack up their dusty minivans and trucks with the leftovers of the day at market and drive over the hills and the river to return to their farmhouses, land, and another cycle of harvesting.
I’ve been wanting warmth to reach my bones on some of these cooler days, where even wool socks don’t quite warm my chilled toes and my sweater cannot wrap tightly enough. I’ll slip into the kitchen to put on the kettle for coffee or tea, yet I am craving something far more hearty, something soulful and southern, which is ingrained, my heritage, stemming from the meals prepared in my childhood by my grandmother, who was raised in Eastern Kentucky, poor and barefoot in a dirt-floor cabin. You wouldn’t know that the regal, poised woman that she became was raised in such a way, except for the manner of her cooking. Hams, shucky beans, rustic and robust stews are her language, along with a kitchen full of family and friends to feed. I often attribute my love of a good meal, the creation of it, and the sharing of it to her, and her alone. She taught me to welcome others into my home, and into my kitchen, with love and conversation, although she never meant to teach it, it was just her way and I knew I wanted to be just like her, cooking in my finest whilst barefoot.
I purchased some shittake mushrooms from one of my favorite women at the market, this nervous, yipping sort of woman with muscled arms and legs and a Danish appearance, blonde and strong. She laughs multiple times in our exchange and is patient with our daughter, who is learning to pick and choose produce and pay for it. She sells these shittake mushrooms from a wide, shallow turned wooden bowl, which is aesthetically pleasing and I always enjoy to see it, much like the rest of her display. Her care and attention to detail is sweet, endearing. I buy a quarter pound or a half pound of these mushrooms every week and they’ve seen the likes of homemade Thai and chunky black bean burgers, yet never a soup. I wanted a bit more of the meaty mushroom texture, so I also added Cremini. Our selection is very limited here, and I work with what is available and organic, so while I might pick some more elusive mushroom elsewhere, these choices suit me and this simple, effortless recipe just fine.
I dried some rosemary and sage in August and have been looking for a way to use some of it, yet I knew I wanted to wait until the weather turned chilly. The primary herb in this warming soup is rosemary, but I felt the sage would have a nice complimentary flavor. I added the locally grown potatoes to the mix, wanting moody, earthy tones and flavors to meld. I relaxed blissfully into the warmth while the pattering and chattering of crisped leaves and rushed, cold-front winds came through the open kitchen window.
Recipe and instructions below.
Two cloves garlic, minced
Two small onions, loosely chopped
8-10 small new, blue, or fingerling potatoes
1/2 lb. cremini mushrooms, sliced
1/4 lb. shiitake mushrooms, destemmed and sliced
6. c vegetable broth
1 c. almond milk or cream
Stem of rosemary, remove leaves and chop finely or crush (dried or fresh)
Stem of sage remove leaves and chop finely or crush (dried or fresh)
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
Heat oil in a Dutch oven on the stovetop, add garlic and then onion. Crush herbs with a mortar and pestle or chop finely, add to garlic and onion. Saute until herbs and onion are softened. Add sliced potatoes and shortly after, the vegetable broth and wait for the boil. Add sea salt, black pepper, and thyme. Add mushrooms and milk once the potatoes are semi-softened. Simmer until all vegetables are soft and the aroma fills the air. Serve with a thick slice of warmed, crusty bread or a dark green salad alongside this soup, along with a robust red or dry white wine.