The one time of year I make a “white” mushroom soup always seem to fall on Christmas Eve. We serve it during the special dinner we make for the small band of merry warriors that stay at Zen River over the festive season.
Funnily enough, the only reason I prepare it then is because that’s what our dad used to make every Christmas Eve while we were growing up. (Guess I’m a victim to a happy pre-conditioned pattern!) He was from Silesia, Poland and for him, Christmas Eve dinner – which was supposed to start when the first evening star appeared but we were always way too late – was the most important meal of Christmas.
The evening began with him going around the table with a slice of rye bread, tearing pieces off and sharing them with everyone, accompanied by some muffled words in Polish and a slightly awkward hug and a kiss. He cooked a special menu that stayed the same from year to year – mushroom soup, no less, followed by fried fish in breadcrumbs; pan-fried potatoes; brussels sprouts; braised, whole mushrooms in their own sauce; boiled potatoes diced and dressed with kippers or canned sardines, green peas and gherkins and Heinz Salad Cream. It was often accompanied by his rather strong home-made damson wine (that have left many a friend with a story to tell on other occasions). Dessert was often Polish poppy-seed loaf and chocolate gingerbread cookies, their auspicious appearance tantalising our taste buds. Later, around midnight and after opening presents under the Christmas tree, we would all roll into church, scamper up the spiral stone staircase leading up to the choir loft, and join midnight mass and a serious bout of hearty carol singing.
While talking to my brother on the phone the other day, he asked me if I knew why our dad always made mushroom soup on Christmas Eve? Was it a tradition he brought from Poland? How did he make it? I honestly don’t know. The only thing I can remember is that he fried a few sliced fresh mushrooms, added some milk and stirred in a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup – followed by a slosh of sherry! (One of our cousins from Siemianowice Śląskie has since informed me that in Silesea it is indeed traditional to make mushroom soup on Christmas Eve, often using dried forest mushrooms.)
Making it from scratch is about as simple as making it from a can – and certainly more tasty. Even better, this is a rather quick soup to prepare. Please enjoy any time of year…
1 medium red onion
2 cloves garlic
250 g (2½ cups whole) mushrooms, any kind
1 tablespoon rubbed sage
Olive oil for frying
750 ml (3 cups) milk, or milk substitute
500 ml (2 cups) light vegetable stock
¼ teaspoon allspice or dash of ground clove
Dash white pepper
Sea salt to taste
3 tablespoons corn starch
3 tablespoons cold water
A slosh of sherry (or substitute with a teaspoon or two of red wine vinegar)
- Peel and small-dice the red onion.
- Peel and mince the garlic.
- Clean and slice the mushrooms.
- Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan on medium flame. Stir in the onions and sauté until they are caramelized. Add the garlic and sage and sauté until the garlic starts to turn golden. Transfer them to a soup pot.
- In the same frying pan, heat up a little more olive oil on medium-high flame. Stir in the mushrooms and sauté rapidly until they begin to brown. Sprinkle with a little salt. Turn off the flame and put them into the soup pot with the red onions.
- Put the milk, water, allspice, and white pepper together into the soup pot with the mushrooms. Place over a medium flame and bring to a scant boil. (Watch carefully as the milk can easily rise and spill over.) Turn the flame low and simmer for a few minutes to marry the flavours.
- Season to taste.
- Dissolve the corn starch in the cold water, and whisk into the soup to thicken.
- Finish the soup by stirring in a slosh of sherry (to taste).
- Season to taste.