For most people it’s indicated by the passing moment when Earth’s equator aligns with the equatorial plane of our solar system, the autumnal equinox. Or the disappearance of white clothing. In LA, due to a lack of meteorological changes, we usually could tell because the sun wasn’t quite so bright. One didn’t need to wear sunglasses to go outside (inside though, one must wear sunglasses year-round – if you don’t wear inappropriate accessories how else are others to know that you are a person to be taken seriously?).
Here in Mississippi, I usually gauge the turning of the seasons by the need to wear socks around the house. I love my house but it’s awfully drafty. Truly, I once watched a cockroach peer under the front door and then scurry back out to tell all his friends and relations about the wonderful dance floor (they had a dance party in the living room later that week). So socks mean that it’s fall. Knee socks, striped socks, a pair of socks with faces drawn on them from a short-lived effort to entertain my dog with a sock puppet mime show one evening (it ended when she ran off with Marcel Marceau). In the teeth of the winds of October, you can never have too many socks.
Socks and soup. If it’s cool enough for socks it’s cool enough for soup. Admittedly, summer hasn’t quite let go of Mississippi. And so I sit around in socks, eating soup, sweating. Because I’m ready for fall to be here! And because homemade soup is a thing of beauty. It is certainly much healthier (SO much less salt) than store bought soup and infinitely more sublime. It can easily be made far ahead of dinner and reheated. Also, because it is, well, liquid, it is more filling. What follows is my very favorite hearty fall soup, full of potatoes and mushrooms and leeks. It’s best if made with homemade stock (I included a simple recipe) but you can amp up store bought stock if you’re tight on time. If you want to make it fully vegan –which still tastes great – leave out the cream and use only olive oil instead of butter.
Mushroom, Leek, and Potato Soup
Based on a recipe by Deborah Madison
Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes total if making your own stock; 45 minutes active
3 Tablespoons butter
1 small red onion, cut into 1/2-inch squares
3 leeks, white parts only, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds or half-rounds (save the greens for the stock)
1 lb. potatoes, quartered and thinly sliced
6 cups of wild mushroom stock OR use store-bought vegetable or mushroom stock (but let it burble for about 15 minutes with leek greens, potato peelings, and mushroom stems in it before adding it to the soup)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
8-12 ounces of mushrooms, irregularly sliced
1/2-cup dry white wine
1/2 to 1 cup light of heavy cream (optional)
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley and thyme, finely chopped
The mushroom stock:
1 1/2 cups chopped leek greens
1 oz. dried porcini or mixed mushrooms
1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
4 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced or chopped (optional)
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stocks, diced
4-6 sprigs of fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
6 branches of parsley, roughly chopped
3 sage fresh sage leaves or large pinch of dried sage
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
9 cups cold water
If you are making your own stock then do that first (or if you’re using store-bought stock, get it simmering in a pot with the extra veggie parts while you prepare the other soup ingredients). This can be made well ahead of the soup and simply refrigerated or even frozen until needed. Also, don’t feel beholden to all the ingredients listed here. The each add richness and depth, but soup is very forgiving and a lack of carrots won’t make or break it. I usually add other odd end vegetables to stock that I have lying around (corn cobs, bean-cooking broth, stems of mushrooms, herbs, and greens are all good additions; broccoli stems are not, nor is anything that looks like its going bad). Cover the dried mushrooms with 1 cup of hot water and set them aside. In a large pot, heat the olive oil and add the stock vegetables, herbs, garlic, and salt. Cook over medium-high heat for about five minutes, stirring frequently. Add the dried mushrooms and their soaking liquid and the 9 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil, then lower to heat and let stock simmer for about 45 minutes. Strain out large pieces of vegetables and herbs before using.
When the stock has about 20 minutes of simmering left to do, melt 2 Tablespoons of the butter in a large soup pot and add the onions and leeks. Cook them over high heat for several minutes, stirring frequently. Then lower the heat and add the potatoes, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 2 cups of stock. Cover the pot and stew the vegetables over low heat for about 10 minutes.
Heat the remaining butter and the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the mushrooms and sauté them over high heat until they begin to sweat, stirring regularly. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the wine. Cook until the wine is reduced and syrupy, a few minutes. Scrape the mushrooms into the soup pot and add the remaining 4 cups of stock. Bring the soup to a boil then lower the heat and simmer slowly, covered, until the potatoes are completely soft, about 25 minutes.
Taste the soup and season with more salt, if needed, and freshly ground black pepper. If using cream, add and heat through. Garnish the soup with the fresh herbs.
Alix Hui is an Assistant Professor of History at Mississippi State University. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .