My Mom went to work when I was one year old at St. John's hospital in Joplin. She worked there for nearly 40 years, forced into retirement last year. I grew up not knowing what a say at home Mom was like, I only knew what a working Mom was like, but when that is all you know it's normal. I spent a ton of time with my Great Grandmother and my Great Aunt (whom I called Robba) and credit them with instilling my love for cooking. It was in their kitchens that I learned the ropes of basic country cooking. I could fry a mean pork chop by the time I was 10. I can remember spending hours in front of the TV watching public access cooking shows and learning a great deal about food from those cooks. I just seemed natural to me, to love cooking and reading cook books.
Most kids have quite a list of things they love for their Mom's to cook. I cant' really say that I have a list because I can't remember my Mom ever making cookies or cakes, or anything "special" that I just have to have. I do remember my Mom making my Grandpa a yellow cake with fluffy white frosting and coconut, which he really liked a lot. My Mom did make Potato Soup, always served with a side of cornbread, when the weather started turning brisk. I think it's the one and only thing my Mom actually made. Some people used to say that they felt sorry for me, but I don't think pity or sorrow is necessary. It was all I knew so it was normal, I never pined away wishing for something better because I thought I had a pretty great Mom. My Mom took me to work with her from the time I was 7 until I left for school. I could fill a library with the things I learned from spending time with my Mom at work. The work ethic and drive I have today is a direct result of those days spent at her side watching her work until she couldn't wiggle one more eyelash and working some more.
I have a recipe for a loaded potato soup that I really love, but this recipe is straight from my Mom's kitchen and transports me back to my childhood. As long as I make this soup I will be able to connect to my Mom. I'm blessed to still have my Mom here with me and we love spending time together. My kids are amassing a list of the things they love, and I hope that when they are gone the first thing they say when they come home is, "can you make..." The greatest treasure for my children is the time they get to spend with my Mom, their Nonny. We take Nonny on vacation with us, go to her house for the weekend just to hang out, and spend all of our holidays with her, too. That time is irreplaceable and something I know they will cherish all of their life.
Ok, we've pulled off of Memory Lane and are now ready to talk soup. This soup is straight forward and honest comfort food. It couldn't be more simple to make, but has a great flavor. After Kendra and I were married I discovered the wonder of adding cheese and bacon to this soup, something I had never added as a kid.
2 russet potatoes per person, plus one for the pot
1/2-1 cup butter (depending on how much soup you make)
1/4-1 cup milk or half and half (we always used milk)
Salt & Pepper to taste
Crisp bacon, cheddar cheese, green onion for garnish
Peel the potatoes and cube them up, trying to cut the potatoes in fairly uniform size. Add the potatoes to a large stock pot and add cold water just enough to cover them. Cover the pot with a lid and bring to a boil over medium heat. Once the potatoes start to boil, add about 2 tablespoons of salt and boil until the potatoes are fork tender (about 8-10 minutes).
Drain the potatoes, saving about 1/4 cup water. Add the butter and stir until melted. The potatoes will break up as you stir. Add milk and stir. Season with salt and pepper, taste and adjust seasoning to your preference. I usually get out the potato masher and mash up the potatoes a little bit. I really depends on how chunky you like your soup. Sometimes I will make it smooth, no lumps, other times I have just a few chunks of potato. Bring this back up to a boil. The starch from the potatoes will thicken the soup. If it gets too thick add just a touch more milk to thin it out.
Serve this with cornbread and your choice of garnish: bacon bits, cheddar cheese, green onion. Mom always crumbled up her cornbread in the soup.