Do you find lots of your memories, and associations, belong to a particular time of the year; or even an entire season?
Last week, we were enjoying a Saturday evening pub discussion against the unlikely-for-us backdrop of a football match (England might have been playing, who knows – we were probably the only people in the room not looking the big screen directly in the eye), and the conversation settled on what our weekends were made of when we were kids.
I realised that Saturdays, and particularly those in the last quarter of the year, lay claim to a definite majority of my thoughts.
(Keep on scrollin’ to get straight to the delicious recipe for Rustic White Bean and Bacon Soup.)
When I was about ten, I remember my Mum beginning what became a Saturday lunch tradition of soup-making (I think this came about from the purchase of a thoroughly modern-for-the-time blender). Carrot and coriander, and leek and potato, figured prominently. The new-world of the 90s was great, wasn’t it?
French bread, butter; then helping my Mum in the kitchen, engaging in some form of garden-assisting with my Dad, or a heading out for muddy bike ride with my friends. There was a time when were a little Brady Bunch biker gang, tearing through the ancient beech woodlands and piling up a front garden with our wheels, when we descended on someone’s house for lemonade and crisps. I digress – see Mum? It’s not just you.
Back to the soup. There followed the acquisition of a set of soup mugs; and the souping got serious. I keep seeing these mugs in vintage shops, which means they’re now considered retro; but I guess most things are when you reach a certain age (although who knew that age was 30-ish? Just a quick sweep around Topshop is enough to tell me that if I’d kept all of my clothes and not grown at all since 1996, I could dress completely on-trend for nothing).
But these soup mugs remind me of so many things – and so many autumn Saturdays. In particular, the weekly visit from my Grandad where we would set out tea, sandwiches and cake on a beige fold-out table, and watch Saturday-night game shows. All the while, I would be looking forward to the best Saturday tea of the year: the garden bonfire. Complete with baked potatoes, sausages and mugs of soup, I would, without fail, don my Halloween outfit from the previous week’s Girl Guide party and conflate the two celebrations. (Note: wearing a bin-bag cape near a fire is a thing to be done with caution.)
And then I would look forward even further to the Boxing Day tea, where we would sit around the same fold-out table, Grandad ensconced in his corner chair.
Months of Saturdays – a season of Saturdays – suspended in time through a kind of memory trapdoor, each with a slightly different flavour of the changing weather; be it food or costume. I think the best part of all of this, especially with Christmas, has always been the anticipation; the build-up, the collecting of things, the bringing-in of twigs and leaves. And all this reminded me that I used to put a lot more advance planning into Halloween.
Each time we’ve been to the States – purposefully, at this time of year – I’ve been thrilled to see the effort people go to for Halloween. Even when we were first there at the end of September, pumpkins were piled high in grocery stores, and farm stalls had these great displays of red and yellow dried corn husks. It’s the way we treat Christmas in the UK; a festival with a big, seasonal approach.
So, being a serious-investor in the Halloween mindset; including its history, cultural expressions and, you know, just all the commercial stuff as well, I decided to get serious about it as a season. The result? Our house has been accumulating pumpkins, dried corn, festive lights and foliage since the beginning of the month. Until December hits, there is only one way this can go.
And I sincerely hope the cat appreciates his cobweb print bow-tie…
So how about making this Rustic White Bean and Bacon Soup this Saturday, and creating some new seasonal memories?
It’s really easy to make, from just a few store-cupboard ingredients, and is just the thing for my Smoky Maple Tofu Bacon. Oh, and it tastes delicious. It’s:
- warming and fragrant, with a depth of rich spices and uplifting herbs;
- hearty and filling with beans and tofu bacon;
- smoky with paprika and fresh peppers;
- a little salty, to go with the sweet maple; and
- lovely and rich with a thick tomato stock.
Pop it all in a big pot while you deck the bookshelves with pumpkins and twigs; and serve it in your best retro crockery. I love using the gorgeous vintage bowls featured in this post, which were a lovely Christmas gift from my sister Faye.
- 100g dried butter beans, soaked overnight*
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 white onion
- 2 bell peppers, seeds discarded
- 2 carrots
- 100g field mushrooms
- 1 tbsp smoked paprika
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- 800ml water
- 1 tin chopped tomatoes
- 1 tbsp tomato puree
- 150g spinach
- 1 tsp each of dried sage, thyme, oregano & rosemary (or whichever you have to hand)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Fresh thyme, to serve (optional)
- Smoky Maple Tofu Bacon, cut into 1cm cubes
- Put the beans in a large saucepan of boiling water and cover. The beans should take roughly the same time to cook as the soup. Once cooked, drain and set aside.
- In another large saucepan, heat the oil on a medium heat. Slice the onion, and chop the peppers, carrots and mushrooms into bite-size pieces. Add these to the oil, stir, and leave for 5 minutes.
- Next, add the paprika, cumin seeds, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Give it all a stir and leave while you fetch the water and chopped tomatoes. Pour these in, together with the tomato puree, and leave to cook, covered, for 30 minutes.
- Pop the tofu bacon into the oven, and cook according to the recipe.**
- To complete the soup, stir in the cooked beans, spinach, dried herbs and seasoning. Cook for a further 10-15 minutes.
- To serve, top with the tofu bacon, and fresh thyme, if using.
**While the tofu bacon tastes best when it's been marinated in advance, it'll still taste great made on-the-go.
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