Beth Kirby of Local Milk carries her Southern heritage -- and the ingredients, dishes, and recipes that come with it -- with her wherever she goes. Every other Monday, that place is here.
Today: Apples are here! Let this be the first thing you do with them.
This is an ode to the beginning of apple season, to orchards and boughs, baskets and tall, narrow ladders. And it isn’t a dadgum pie. It’s an Indian summer soup.
When autumn smoke and summer steam mingle, that’s when you make this soup; it can be warm-cozy-creamy or cool-bright-vichyssoise-esque as you please. I know, when you think of apples the first thing you think of probably isn’t soup, and I don’t know anyone around here that waxes nostalgic about grandma’s apple soup. It’s not an institution. But once you make this, you’ll realize that’s a shame.
It wasn’t really official eat o’clock around our house, but I was impatient. And proud. I’d been spoon-licking and finger-dipping already, and I needed to have full immersion right then, smooth spoonful after spoonful of this mélange of Gravenstein apples, celery, a fat bulb of fennel, a bunch of watercress, and a fistful of fresh herbs I’d stolen from my sister-in-law’s garden on the way home. Most especially mint. Dinnertime was an eternity away.
I called for my taster.
"What?" He calls back from his office.
"I made soup. Do you want some soup? Do you want some soup now?" I have the tenor of a mad woman. I stick my head into his office where he’s laying on the floor surrounded by stacks of books, as per usual. Strands of hair fall out from beneath my headscarf into my eyes. "I made soup!"
I’d already taken the photos, restrained myself from digging in while I tried to artfully arrange dots of cream on its surface before they bled out into tie-dyed little stars (not easy), and placed baby watercress leaves and purple mint blossoms just so. You see, I had to dress it up because I really wanted you all to like it -- I wanted it to make a good first impression. I know for a fact that if you give it a chance, if you get to know it, there’ll be no need for any of that, for dots of cream or anything just so. All you’ll need is a ladle, the nearest bowl, and a generous pinch of herbs. It is admittedly dear with tiny purple mint blossoms and swirls of thick, fresh cream, so if you can restrain yourself long enough to make the effort, by all means, dress it up. Keep the romance alive.
"Your bowl of soup is ready. It’s hot! You should come now." I’ve a sense of urgency. I want to know what he thinks.
He emerges from his office, book still in hand. He sets it down on the dining room table, and we sidle up to the kitchen counter to eat it perched atop barstools.
"What do you think? Do you like it? I really like it. Do you like it?"
"Yeah. It’s really good."
"Do you mean that?" All I get is a sidelong can’t-you-see-I’m-eating glance. That’s a yes as far as I’m concerned.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large shallot, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 large bulb fennel, cored and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2 large or 3 small tart, crisp apples such as Honeycrisp, Gravenstein, or Granny Smith, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2 stalks celery, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces, leaves and all
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey or sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt plus more to taste
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup watercress
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons chopped fennel fronds
1/2 cup heavy cream
Photos by Beth Kirby