Scent is one of the most essential senses that humans have. It is perceived through the olfactory bulbs, which are a part of the limbic system — a deeply buried part of the brain which also houses instinctive response and emotional memories. As many people know, a particular odor can trigger powerful nostalgia. It can “take you back” to a time, a place, or a situation. The memories may be so clear that they are almost overwhelming. In the mind, the walls of another place arise, the years turn, and one relives a gestalt experience.
What does this have to do with soup?
When I was a child, my grandmother would care for me when my mother was busy. She lived alone in a little house, which was exactly the way that she wanted it. I remember small things – the collection of colored glass in the china cabinet, her copy of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, the sullen black cat. The larger picture sometimes slips away from my mind. I do remember that my grandmother would often make this particular soup for our lunch. She grew up during the Great Depression, and some of her habits reflected that fact. When making potato onion soup, she wouldn’t use milk – she would use 6 to 8 of the single-sized containers of half-and-half that she had carefully collected from fast food restaurants. My grandmother would serve the soup with crackers and sliced cheese, and we would eat in silence.
Until recently, I had not made this soup for years. Life passes me by sometimes, and I forget about old recipes and old memories. A few days ago, the weather was cold, and I decided that potato onion soup sounded like just the thing. As the onions were simmering in the pot, I leaned over to enjoy the aromatic steam, and without warning the years fell away around me like paper-thin leaves. I could see everything just as it was, from the Campbell’s soup timer to the rhinestone-studded Kit-Kat clock hanging in the piano room. I was nine years old again, and my grandmother was in the kitchen making soup for lunch. For the first time in nearly ten years, I missed her.
Sometimes, simple food is the best food. This soup is one of the easiest to make that I have ever encountered, and it is wonderfully warming. I hope that it may bring you comfort and enjoyment, as it has done for my family over the years.
- 1 large onion, diced
- 4 cups diced peeled potatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons butter
In a large pot, cover the onions with a generous amount of water.
Bring the onions to a boil over high heat, and cook until clear.
Add the potatoes and salt, and reduce the heat to medium. Simmer for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft.
Add the milk and butter, and reduce the heat to low.
Using a potato masher, mash approximately half of the potatoes. The goal is to thicken the texture of the soup, not to make it completely creamy.
Simmer over low heat until the soup is thickened, and serve.
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