01 January 2011

Warm Supper ... Tomato Bisque, A Grilled Cheese ... and a Story

Warm supper. When I was a kid, a wintertime supper fit for a queen consisted of a big warm bowl of cream of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich with a mug of hot cocoa and some cookies for dessert. I lived in a neighborhood inhabited by at least forty kids that ranged in age from seven to seventeen years of age. Who knew if there were younger ones. There had to be! That, however, didn't concern a ten year old headed for the wintertime sliding hill on a chilly winter afternoon. Our neighborhood abutted a tract of land that ran adjacent to NY State Highway 37 ... and that tract of land was wooded with a criss-cross of paths and rutted bike trails that our banana bikes carved in the summer and that provided prime sliding trails in the wintertime.

We took our sliding seriously in those days. When the first major snow hit Massena, the big boys (those rowdy teenagers) would take their toboggans and plastic 'go-ers' and pack down the bike trail starting from Merritt Ave and running down a flume-like passage, into a straight-away that ran about a hundred yards, up and over a hummock that gave you serious air, and then down a long and bumpy stretch of snowy field to a length of wire fence that bordered the drainage ditch parallel to Rt. 37. The boys would run their toboggans all over that hillside until it was packed and slick. Sometimes, they would use their plastic 'go-ers' to haul snow to certain bumps on the hill, creating  moguls that a sledder could hit perfectly or ... roll and tumble to the point of jaw-jarring nausea. My God, what a dare devil's dream come true!

After the hill was primed, we neighborhood kids would bring our sleds, 'go-er's', and toboggans to the Merritt Ave terminus and queue up for the ride of our young lives. There was a strict set of unwritten rules that dealt with behavior on the sled run. Sliding etiquette dictated that you count to fifteen before getting a running start at the top of the run and following the kid in front of you. When you hit the hummock at the top of the verge, you had better keep your eyes peeled for those trudging back up the hill or those that had wiped out and were laying like so many fat ticks, gaining their bearings before rolling to their knees and reclaiming their sleds. Breach that etiquette and you could get hurt or have the wrath of the other kids come down on you. No one liked getting bruised from a collision with the front end of a sled or toboggan or cut off on the lower hill by someone coming from behind at a faster clip. Eating snow or getting ice scrapes on your cheeks was a horrible fate ... and God forbid if you really got whacked and ended up with a broken leg or arm! Believe me, it happened on occasion ... usually when their was an icy build-up on the lower hill.

The ultimate ride, though,  was negotiating the moguls while building enough speed to make it to the chain-link fence at the bottom of the hill. If you ran into the fence, it boomeranged you backwards ... at a high rate of speed, kinda like being a human slingshot rock.  The key was to duck your head, turn it to the side and hug your sled so that you took the ride and didn't fly off your sled in a lesson on inertia, scraping cheeks, or worse, catapulting off your sled and into the fence. Our mothers would have been appalled, but hey, we loved it!

All this extreme fun got you cold and hungry. When the mittens had a frozen grip and your toes were beginning to lose feeling, it was time to trudge on home for a warm supper. Dang! Those were the days ...

Making cream of tomato soup brought back all those fun memories! I came across this book at a used book store in NYS on a recent visit with friends. It is an antique promotional cook book for Rumford Chemical Company, the makers of Rumford Baking Powder ... cool, huh?

Adapting the tomato bisque recipe made for a perfect blast from the past for me ... and it helped me use up some plum tomatoes sitting on my countertop.

This is such an easy soup to make ... this heavy saucepan, a bowl, and an immersion blender are the only major items needed ... plus basic ingredients.

Six chopped and seeded tomatoes, three small sweet boiling onions, a bay leaf, two whole cloves, a small sprig of parsley, and two cups of water. Salt, black pepper, 2 tsp. of sugar, 3 tbsp. of tomato paste (because these are 'winter' tomatoes). Bring the mix to a low boil and then lower the heat and simmer until the tomatoes are soft.

When the tomatoes are softened and the onions are 'falling apart' soft, turn the heat off, cover, and leave for about one hour so that the spices really work. Remove the cloves and bay leaf and transfer the hot tomato mix to a deep bowl and blend with a handblender until smooth.

Make a roux in the saucepan with 2 tbsp. of flour and 2 tbsp. of butter. Add 2 c. of whole milk or half and half. Stir to thicken and then add the tomatoes. Whisk together and add 1/2 tsp. baking powder that has been dissolved in a teaspoon of water. This neutralizes some of the tomatoes' acidity. Warm the soup thoroughly without boiling and correct the seasonings.

Make a toasted cheese sandwich and dish up a warm bowl of cream of tomato soup ... mmmmm!

Cream of Tomato Soup


6 plum tomatoes, quartered, seeded, and chopped
3 small white boiling onions,
1 bay leaf
2 whole cloves
1 sprig parsley
kosher salt, a couple generous pinches
black pepper, generous grinding
2 tsp. sugar
3 tbsp. tomato paste
2 c. water
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. flour
2 c. whole milk/half-and-half
1/2 tsp. baking powder dissolved in 1 tsp. warm water

Making the Soup:

1. Place the prepared vegetables, the spices, sugar, tomato paste, and water in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil.

2. Lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, then turn the heat off and cover the stock. Leave for about an hour.

3. Remove the bay leaf and cloves, turn the stock into a bowl and puree with a handblender.

4. In the same saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour to make a roux. cook until the roux is bubbly and add the milk whisking constantly until thickened.

5. Turn the tomato stock into the white sauce and whisk to incorporate and make a smooth bisque.

6. Correct the seasonings and heat thoroughly without boiling.

7. Serve with oyster crackers or a grilled cheese sandwich.


  1. Happy New Year Susan! Your soup looks great but I LOVE your story about being a kid, even though it's a totally alien landscape it speaks to me as a childhood similar to mine and that's what I love about it, those little rules that kids made up... brilliant!

  2. A good tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich brings back fond memories for me too. Your story was wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

    Happy New Year!


  3. That is a gorgeous story (and a fine looking cheese toastie, not to mention the soup!)

  4. I'm hyperventalating about the the tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich reference. ME TOO! Our was of course Campbells (always made with milk, not water) and my mother would make the grilled chesse sandwiches on the flat plat on the opposite side of the waffle plate in our waffle maker (meaning she'd flip it to the flat side). So love that meal. Your soup however does look to be a lovely update....now that we are all sophisticated food bloggers and all!

  5. What fun memories! I wish I could go sledding there now! And yes...grilled cheese and tomato cream soup is the best combo! I used to eat it as a kid too and still do!

  6. The years of my childhood spent in Rome, NY were the ones with the most time spent sledding! I can just picture those winters and the fun I had in all of that snow. Thanks for the memories! And the yummy soup, too.

  7. Thanks for your kind comments! I am so pleased that folks like 'my story' ...one of the joys I have is writing, although I am sort of self-conscious about my writing skills. I practice, practice, practice and then ... I finally let myself take a chance and hit the publish buttom ...


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