Southern Soup and Christmas Traditions

Last Friday my workplace hosted a "Soup, Sandwich and Stuff" Holiday Party, which was timely for the wintry-mix weather we had late last week and also perfect in that those food categories are just casual enough to catch my interest in participating. I'm a lazy kind of cook, I admit it.

The moment I started thinking of soup, one idea popped into my head and I couldn't deny it - Pimento Cheese Bisque. I garnered the recipe from a Moosewood Restaurant cookbook I picked up in Powell's Books during a visit to Portland, Ore. when Scott interned there a few summers ago. If you ever get a chance, check out
Powell's - a whole city block of books! It's the biggest damn bookstore I've ever been in and it ranks up there with my besties, City Lights in San Francisco and Malaprops in Asheville, NC.

But back to the soup... I made it for my mom soon after I purchased the cookbook and it turns out that my mom was a little bit of a fan of this soup - she's quite the accomplished hostess, being a former minister's wife, so she "entertains" a lot - and she likes this soup so much that nearly every time I call her and she tells me about a dinner party or lunch she hosted, Pimento Cheese Bisque is the main course. You would wonder if she knew how to make anything else.

But, I know how that goes. Once you latch onto a recipe that is fairly easy to make yet yields a bazillion compliments each time you bring it out, you know you have a winner. And it's those winners that consistently appear in your repertoire. I don't know how well this soup would do outside the confines of the Dirty South, but I do know a whole mess of Southern folks lap this stuff right up.

the recipe - and you're welcome. It's foolproof - saute onions and celery in a big pot til you can see right through them, add in the potatoes, simmer 20 minutes, then add in the sharp cheddar (don't you dare use mild, okay?) and a 3/4 packet of cream cheese (I used Neufchatel, just because I'd like to think I am sparing myself a few extra ripples of cellulite instead of using full fat cream cheese). Soften the cheese up while the soup cools, add in half a jar of pimentos, and blend the soup in small batches.

SMALL batches of COOLED soup being the key. I learned this the hard way the first time I blended a soup - half the blender should be full - max. Otherwise you end up with a pretty disaster of peach-colored liquid on your kitchen walls, apron, and other hard to clean spots.

Also, for those of you residing under boulders and whatnot, Christmas is coming, which means at my mom's house I can look forward to a soup meal on Christmas Eve, with the traditional stuffed mushrooms. Christmas morning we have country ham biscuits and sweet rolls from
Old Salem. Old Salem is an awesome Moravian community in Winston-Salem that has an incredible traditional bakery. Their sweet rolls make my Christmas.

One year before my mom and I traveled to Texas together, I tried to institute a Christmas sangria tradition. We haven't picked it up since then, but there's only so much you can remember to do when you're hauling ass across I-40 with a carful of gifts and such. Red wine and fruit just have to take their turn.

Speaking of other Christmas tasty treats, Scott makes an amazing Guinness Beef Stew. I do hope we can reinstate that tradition, as he first made it for me, his dad and his grandmother during a particularly rough Christmas. I can't thank him or his family enough for the support they showed to come up and spend Christmas with us at a time when life just seemed too hard - me working the obituary desk on Christmas, Scott delivering pizzas, and my own father ill with cancer that would eventually take his life. Looking back, it's those times that help you realize what you're blessed with - the real gifts of this holiday season.

So, to depart from this Hallmark moment, I'm looking forward to soups, stews, sweet rolls, and sweeter times with family. I hope all of you are eagerly anticipating a few of your own favorite things.


  1. Yummy! I am going to have to give this soup a go for sure. Although I'm not sure how I feel about pimento's...but it sounds so tempting maybe the pimentos and I can work out our differences.


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