Potage from the Potager: Soup and Stew Season

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The midst of November... we are well into autumn now, and winter and the sparkling festive season are just a few weeks away. The nights have drawn in with the clocks going back an hour, but have made mornings lighter; although, as the days shorten, I notice that they are getting darker earlier.

It can be a season of dark, grey days where lights are needed in the home even in the middle of the day, but, it is also a time of year that I love – it’s like a big cuddly jumper, or a woolly blanket, it’s a time when it is OKAY, and indeed a necessity to eat hearty food, where stews, casseroles, soups and potage keep us warm, and nourish not just our tummies, but our souls. It’s a time of year to bring out those stew pots and use them almost daily; it’s also that time of year to bake bread – to fill the house with fresh bread fragrance, but I will talk about bread another time.

My veggie garden is almost barren now, I have some leeks coming on and a few parsnips and sprouts for the big day, but, it’s my herbs that have been keeping my stew pot going.

I can of course buy lovely seasonal vegetables locally from farm shops and markets, and a kindly friend dropped off some carrots and beetroot last week, which was very welcome. But, my herbs are still prolific, and even my outdoor basil has a few straggly leaves clinging on, just right for a tomato salad or plate of pasta.

The winter herbs are looking wonderful, soft downy leaves of sage nod against the terracotta pots, whilst spiky rosemary leaves reach for the sky as the bush grows into a small tree…my lovage is still bright green and it’s yeasty celery-like fragrance clings to my fingers long after I have snapped off a few leaves.

Soup or potage? What’s the difference other than in a name – is it a word that is lost in translation, not really, as we used to use the word potage in English for centuries; it could be a bowl of soup or gruel, or a “mess” of oats (porridge) or even barley mixed with vegetable stock and just a whiff of precious meat.

The original old French word means a pot of stew, a “potted meal”, and the word “potager” is of course the garden that fills the potage, (the pot) it’s an elemental word that still carries resonance in France, a warm and nourishing word, and many an eye is glazed over when one talks about their maman’s potage. Although there are many types of potage, such as milky based frumenty and enriched jellies, sometimes made with fruit and flowers, it’s the soup and stew type of potage I am discussing this time.

A soup for me has to contain some the following essential elements: pulses of some sort such as lentils or split peas, pearl barley, beans (sometimes, such as butter beans), carrots, onions, herbs and garlic…….potatoes, leeks, celery, swede, turnip, beetroot, cabbage or parsnips are optional extras depending on what type of soup I am making.

It’s obvious that root vegetables are the mainstay of the winter stew pot, as they can simmer away for a long time and retain their shape. You may notice that I have not included meat or fish in my list of essential stew ingredients; it’s not that I don’t like a chicken soup or a mutton broth, it’s just that if you have any of the ingredients above, from your potager, you have the makings of a delicious soup or stew, especially when dumplings are added or some slices of “door-step” bread.

When I thought about what recipe I would share with you, I was in a bit of a flap; how can one choose JUST one soup to share, it’s impossible, so I have decided to share a few links to soups on my blog here, as well as my usual recipe that will be featured below. 

So, can I tempt you with any of the following soups from the Lavender and Lovage Soup Kitchen…Meat-Free Scotch BrothAllotment Soup,  Spiced Carrot Soup with Cheese and Houmous Toasties, Marmite Ecossaise ~ Luxury Scottish Seafood Stew, Cullen Skink my way or maybe a bowl of Curried Scottish Carrot and Lentil Soup. Served up in big rustic bowls with a hunk of Farmhouse Oatmeal Breadand lots of love, as I always think that a bowl of soup is like a big bowl of love…….and I often ask my mum to make a bowl of her “magic lentil soup” when I am feeling under the weather, it’s an almost instant remedy for most ailments and the winter blues – just like the Jewish community and their famous chicken soup, often called a culinary antibiotic, and made for those they love when they are ill.

Whether it be Borscht or Harissa, Scotch Broth or Vichyssoise, soup is easy to make, can be kept warm for hours and certainly feeds the soul…..I hope you will enjoy the recipe I decided to share today, a bowl of comfort and joy, a brightly coloured soup that brings a smile to the faces of all who eat it, even before one spoon has been dipped in, Spiced Red Lentil Soup with Frazzled Onions; made with red lentils, onions, carrots, vegetable stock, assorted aromatic spices and of course a big spoon of love!

Have a wonderful Potage and Soup season, and I will see you next month, when I will be sharing some fabulous festive gift ideas that you can all make at home.

Thanks for reading!