That’s Another Story: Part 1 – Cream of Celery Soup
In a blog I wrote back in June about a great event that I did at the Monona Public Library, entitled “A Cook and Two Books,” I talked about one of the books, Light it Up, by Nick Petrie, which was set in the Colorado Rockies. If you have read my blogs, you know that I lived out there for a spell back in the 80’s, and had a great time trying to sell cars, running a liquor store, and tending bar, as well as enjoying mountain life. You’ll also know that I like to say, “that’s another story,” when I mention things that remind of good stories. Here is one of them.
One thing I didn’t do much of in CO was ski. As I said in my previous blog, I was too busy living in Colorado to have time to ski. Now I won’t argue with anyone that says I could have found some time to ski, but I just never took the time; I truly was spending a lot of time simply living. The third dwelling I lived in, after I first moved from the too-expensive second-floor loft to the renovated chicken coop, was a log cabin in Eldora. Eldora rises over 400 feet above Boulder. This made the four-mile walk to work in Boulder relatively easy because it was downhill. Coming home after a long shift at the liquor store took an extra 10-15 minutes because it was up-hill. (I was in great shape back then!) We closed the store at 10:30 p.m. I was usually on my way minutes later, on my hour-plus walk home.
Because it was late and it was a long straight stretch of road, I could see a car approaching easily before they saw me. Just to keep things simple and safe, I would scamper into the brush alongside the road to go unnoticed as the car zipped past.
One night, though, I didn’t duck off the road but just kept walking. The car shot past me and then the driver suddenly hit the brakes, popped into reverse and backed up. The passenger side door swung open and I first saw a black-and-white dog sitting in the passenger seat and then heard the driver holler out, “Hey, Do you want a ride?” His name was Paul and his dog’s name was Willie (named after Willie Mays, I soon found out). It seemed safe enough.
I got in the car and gratefully rode the rest of the way up to Eldora. Paul lived on the first floor of the old Newspaper Office. Rumor has it, it had once been a whorehouse too, but I don’t know that for sure. My log cabin was up the road a ways so Paul dropped me off and I invited him in for a beer to thank him for the ride. I opened the front door and my cats were thrilled as usual to see me, but not Willie. He was thrilled to see them though, and cats flew everywhere. Once things settled down, Paul and I hunkered around my electric heater and shared some beer and got started on a long-lasting friendship.
We had to huddle around my little squeaky heater because I didn’t have any firewood for my wood stove. It turned out that Paul didn’t have any wood for his wood stove either. We made plans to go out the next day, drive up into the National Forest and find a little wood. We got up early (for me) and went on our search. We were nervous about getting caught by a Park Ranger, but thankfully we didn’t. We each got enough dead limbs to at least cut the chill in our respective abodes for a week or so. I also had some heat to do a little cooking.
I did a lot of cooking on that wood stove. It was a very simple stove, with the heat regulated by a nob you adjusted in the front which let more or less air in. I pretty much knew where the boiling spots, simmer spots and holding spots were. I remember one meal in particular because I shared it with Paul. It was at a time when neither of us had any money. The liquor store I had been working at in Nederland had been sold. I didn’t want to work for the new owners, so I was just kind of hanging out in the cabin, hunting, fishing and gathering.
This memorable meal consisted of Cream of Celery Soup and some fresh-fried brook trout. The ingredients for the soup I had scavenged from the discard bin at the Mountain People’s Co-op in Nederland. I had found a severely limp head of celery, some onions that squished when you squeezed them and some sprouting garlic. By the time I peeled away all the bad stuff, what was left was the succulent celery heart, plenty of firm onion layers and more than enough garlic. I had some butter, seasonings and enough potable water to make a hearty pot of soup. The trout came from Middle Boulder Creek that still flows through Eldora, about a block from my cabin. Trout were the only fish that lived in the mountain streams I fished. I was really good at catching trout, but I got so tired of eating them. However they were fresh and free.
I mention potable water because my cabin did not have running water. There was a pump house that sat just behind and up the hill a bit from the cabin, but because the underground water reserve was shallow it was contaminated by the outhouses. There wasn’t a sewer system in Eldora. So the water could be used for washing if it was boiled, but not for drinking. I used to use an old electric coffee urn as my hot water heater. Drinking water I hauled in containers that I filled whenever I got a ride into Nederland (before I learned you could get water from behind McDougall’s when they weren’t home).
The recipe that follows is how I would make the soup now. That day in my log cabin I didn’t know terms like sweating, deglazing, reducing and sautéing. I just remember cooking the onions, celery and garlic with some butter, adding just enough water for the right thickness and seasoning it with salt, pepper and if I remember correctly, some celery salt and dried thyme. Luckily the cabin had electricity so my blender actually worked. I wasn’t totally uncivilized.
Cream of Celery Soup
2 tablespoon butter
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon thyme
½ tablespoon peppercorns
1 tablespoon parsley stems
2 bay leaves
½ cup dry white wine
4 cups chopped celery
4 cups chicken stock or potable water
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup heavy whipping cream, (optional)
Method: Cook the onion with the butter over medium heat until the onion has sweated (gotten soft). Add the garlic and cook another minute. Meanwhile, tie the herbs in a cheesecloth bundle (a “bouquet garni”). Add the wine and cook until reduced to nearly dry. Add the chopped celery, bouquet garni and stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook about 20 minutes or until the celery is tender. Remove the bouquet garni and puree the mixture. Strain if desired. Add the cream if used. Bring to a simmer and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.