Poetics in the Pot

Cream of Celery Soup from Bibberche.com

Mother usually made her chicken or beef stock in a pressure cooker, a shiny metal beast that sat atop the stove spewing steam at and hissing like a dragon from some of the scariest Serbian tales. I tried not to pay attention to the ingredients she threw into the pot showing oh-so-typical disdain for such mundane and pedestrian things like cooking.

At fourteen years old, I thought I was so philosophically advanced that I could parse out my little pearls of wisdom, trying to teach my beloved mother that she had it wrong; if Aristotle had to worry about dinners and cleaning the bathroom, he never would have had the time to finish writing his Aesthetics and securing his spot as one of the coolest people ever. I scolded her mercilessly for never unpacking her paints and leaving the easel buried under the piles of neatly folded out-of-season clothes and old knitting magazines in our big storage room. I pummeled her relentlessly with my arrogantly unwavering opinion that she wasted her amazing artistic talent on trivial and unimportant things that would mean nothing for posterity.

Mother would give me her one-sided smile as she cut the onion in half and placed it on the burner to char it and bring out the smoky flavor that would add another layer of taste to the stock. I would recite platitudes and do my best at remembering quotes, while she would clean and cut carrots, parsnips, and parsley roots. By the time she started on celery, I was at the top of my game, feeling victorious, imagining myself a mix of Socrates, Joan of Arc, and a very young Yoda, inundated with infinite wisdom and the courage necessary to fix everything that was wrong with the world.

I could not wait for her to finally plop the plump hen or a nice, thick shank with lots of marrow into the pot and acknowledge my litany, praising me for my eloquence and wisdom beyond my years. What I usually received instead of admiration and pure awe was a knowing and somewhat melancholy smile borne out of the years she lived in this imperfect world which tends to become smaller and smaller the older you get. As I was drying the dishes that she washed, I grumbled under my breath loudly enough for her to hear that there was not a soul on this earth incapable of drying dishes, while so few of the really great ones can rise to the heights of an Aristotle.

New Year 1968 from bibberche.com

My sister and I in dresses Mother made for us (we are holding our brand new Eskimo dolls she made:)

I know now that my words carried a hefty dose of unintentional cruelty. In my naivety, I really thought I was explaining to her some profound secrets that she somehow could not grasp, buried under the repetitious tasks linked together to make her day. Mother’s world was as big as mine when she embarked on her road to adulthood as a young girl, full of dreams and expectations. And even though I could not see it at the time, she managed to weave her magic and creativity into the minute details of her daily life, leaving behind a trail peppered with wonderment and glitter.

There are no paintings signed with her hand hanging in our family home. But there are rooms decorated with class and taste, almost every piece of furniture in them expertly made following her designs; there are luxurious tablecloths she embroidered fit to adorn a living quarters in a royal palace; there are unique dresses she sewed for us out of nothing, using handkerchiefs or the pieces of fabric left from other projects; there are dolls and toys she made from scratch when we were kids that made all our friends envious; there are soft elaborately knitted sweaters my girls jealously keep in their closets planning to pass them on to their children; there are cards she wrote to us for no reason at all and dedications in the books she bought for our birthdays filled with words of love, wisdom, and support; and then there is all the food she prepared for us throughout the years, teaching us that there is more to feeding your family than constant stirring and dicing.

As I listen to my smart girls trying to discover the world of wonders for me, I have to smile and remember another time and another place when I wanted to change the way the Earth turns, vowing never to allow myself to to be manacled to the stove, not realizing that the manacles were made of the softest petals, tiniest feathers, and most loving caresses she kept for us.

So many things in life are not the way they seem. Something that appears simple and unassuming at first glance, might hide the most wonderful surprises under the surface.

I have never been in love with the flavor of celery, packed in the hard and gnarly root displayed at European farmers’ markets, or the crispy, bright green stalks I saw for the first time when I moved to the U.S. I tolerate it as a flavor builder, a humble helper that allows others to shine. But the first time I reluctantly made cream of celery soup, I realized that another door opened for me. For, hidden in the silky sea of light green is a flavor so subtle, but so appealing, only a light trace of harsh celery essence that soothes and comforts more and more with every spoonful.

CREAM OF CELERY SOUP

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 bunch scallions, trimmed and diced
  • 1/3 large yellow onion, diced
  • 7-8 celery stalks, trimmed and cubed
  • 1 large Idaho russet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 tsp fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp fresh parsley
  • 1 quart vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • ½ tsp fresh ground pepper
  • ¼ cup crème fraiche for decorating (optional); you can also use yogurt or sour cream mixed with a bit of milk to make it less thick

Directions:

Heat the oil on medium-low heat and sauté scallions and onions until soft and translucent. Add celery and stir for another 1-2 minutes. Add potatoes and herbs, and pour the liquid in. Season with salt and pepper and turn the heat on high until it boils. Immediately lower the temperature to simmer and cook for 30 minutes, until vegetables are soft. Carefully pour into a blender, cover, and place a kitchen towel on top. Puree the soup and return to the pot. Serve immediately, with a dollop of crème fraiche.

Kristin and Cheryl started their wonderful SoupaPalooza for the first time last year. I spent hours browsing through the comforting recipes, even though our Southern California weather was not exactly bone-chilling. The soup is the essential part of a Serbian main meal and no celebration can be imagined without a soup or a stew featured prominently. I linked the post about my African Chicken, Peanut, and Sweet Potato Stew, not only because it is one of the most satisfying meals I have ever head since I left Mother’s kitchen, but because the story surrounding it is one of my favorites.

February 28 is the second edition of SoupaPalloza and I cannot wait for another batch of delicious meals. I am sending my celery soup into the link-up, and I hope you visit Kristin’s and Cheryl’s sites for an inspiration.

Come join SoupaPalooza at TidyMom and Dine & Dishsponsored by KitchenAidRed Star Yeast and Le Creuset

Here are some other recipes for Cream of Celery soup from some of my favorite bloggers:

In Erika’s Kitchen – Cream of Celery Soup 

Rustic Garden Bistro – Silky Leek and Celery Root Soup

The Wednesday Chef - Leslie Brenner’s Cream of Celery Soup

Running with Tweezers – Mom’s Celery Soup

 

Last year at this time I published Hush Puppies

9 Responses to Poetics in the Pot

  1. Well written lana. Love the soup and your mom’s pressure cooker. My mom never used one. Great childhood memories!

  2. I always used to wonder why my mom used to obsess over cooking so much too – as I do now :) Beautifully written!

  3. Gloria says:

    Hi Lana. Your post made me smile. It’s so true that in our younger years we think we are so much smarter than our parents and hold wisdom that could so easily improve everyone’s lives. I definitely thought I knew it all. I like the idea of this subtle soup. I could see eating it with a grilled goat cheese and apple sandwich. P.S. The photo of your and your sister is precious.

  4. Gordana says:

    Draga Lana, divna prica, bas sam, uzivala. Pisala sam jedan post o supi i uslikala sam povrce za nju zajedno sa preprzenim lukom, pa su me neki pitali u komentarima zasto je luk izgoren. To sam naslijedila od svoje mame.
    Odlican recept, hvala ti.

  5. My mum introduced me to celery soup….and despite misgivings I love it :) I love when something so simple is so much great than the sum of it’s parts :)

  6. zoran says:

    Extremly well written. I did enjoy reading it, and it brought a big smile on my face. My two older boys, turning 16 and 18 this year are well into trying to tll me all secrets of this world…
    Thanks for the story and recipe,

    puno pozdrava

    Zoran

  7. amee says:

    always a pleasure reading your stories.. I had/have undertones of cruelty to my mom also. lots of grumbling and mumbling with anger and now i have fond memories. her nagging, however, still lives on. Next time i go home I will try to re-enact some of it for old times… :)

  8. My grandmother used to make potato and celery soup in a pressure cooker. It was my favorite meal. Thank you once again for a wonderful break in my day to enjoy another wonderful memory.

  9. Lana says:

    @Shulie, my mom always used pressure cooker for her stocks, and I was always a bit afraid of it. But one of these days I’ll have to get it, as it saves time and energy!

    @Rose, isn’t it odd how perspectives change while we grow older? I find a lot of my mom in myself:)

    @Gloria, grilled goat cheese and apple sandwich sounds amazing! What a great combination:) And thanks, I love that photo:)

    @Gordana, miris tog prženog luka za supu je nešto posebno! Mnogi nikad nisu ni čuli za to, ali je meni pileća supa bez tog luka nezamisliva:)

    @Mairi, that’s exactly how I feel! Celery in its raw form is just to overbearing!

    @Hvala, Zorane:) Nekada je i bolje da deca imaju malo tog buntovničkog duha i da budu radoznala:)

    @Amee, he, he, I still do that, but she feigns ignorance, like “That did not happen!”. I wonder if I will do the same to my girls:)

    @Cathy, your comments always make me smile! Thanks for reading! I hope to see you soon at one of the LA meetings:)

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