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Harvest Soups Celebrate Summer & Anticipate Cooler Weather


Apples at the road side - Photo by Sylvie Rowand

Apples at the road side - Photo by Sylvie Rowand.

Even today when the bounty of the world’s agriculture is for sale on any supermarket shelf, autumn still retains its historical association with the local harvest, the celebration of a good summer and final preparations to survive the dark months. When temperatures cool off and the leaves turn gold – trees preparing themselves for overwintering – many of us head out for a day in the country, seeking that deep-rooted connection with the harvest-time, picking apples or enjoying a winery visit.

Warm soups reappear in the fall, either as a first course or a meal. I know: soup … so boring, right? Right indeed, if the soup is the over-processed, over-salted, under-flavored glob coming out of a can. But it doesn’t have to be.

Fresh soups are wonderfully endless, flavorful and flexible; comforting or exciting; hearty or delicate; brothy or creamy; meaty or full of vegetables. Soup is forgivingly easy-to-make and beautiful. It’s the perfect dish to take advantage of the autumnal abundance – one that is a boon for families or busy people. Make it ahead (freeze it even) and warm it up as needed. Add some bread and you’ve got a nutritious, balanced “one-pot” meal. Pour some in a thermos and take it out for a picnic or for your workday homemade lunch.

Recipes are hardly needed, yet it’s easy to fall into a rut, always cooking the same thing. Here are two recipes that take advantage of our Virginia harvest, in fairly unusual but delicious combinations.

Yellow and green tomatillos - photo by Sylvie Rowand.

Tomatillo, a distant relative of tomatoes that originate from Central America, grows well in Virginia and gives the chunky chowder its inimitable zing. Apple is another naturalized crop: English colonists brought apple seeds and seedlings in the 17th century, when apples were eaten fresh and dried, as well as used extensively to make hard cider and vinegar.

In fact, it adapted so well that many Americans think of apples as a native fruit. They aren’t, originating from Central Asia. Today we use them mostly in dessert, but they lend themselves well to a variety of savory dishes, including… soup: they smooth out the taste, bringing body without starch or cream!

Tomatillo Chicken Corn Chowder
About 3 quarts (6 hearty main servings)

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled, halved, thinly sliced
3 clove garlic, minced
2 fresh jalapeno peppers, minced (seeds removed to tame the heat, if desired)
3 medium-size potatoes, diced (peeling optional)
1½ cup fresh corn kernels
1 pound fresh tomatillos, a mix of yellow (mature) and green (immature) if possible, husk removed, roughly chopped
6 cups good quality chicken broth (preferably homemade) – more if desired
1 cup finely cut-up cooked chicken meat – preferably dark
Salt to taste
Cilantro leaves to garnish if desired, minced

Heat a Dutch-oven pan over medium heat. Add oil and onions. Cook until onions are soft and translucent (but not brown), stirring occasionally, about 10-15 minutes.

Add garlic and jalapenos, stir for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add potatoes, corn, tomatillo and broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 20-30 minutes.

Carefully purée half the soup in a blender (work in small batches). Add back to the pot.Add chicken and additional broth if desired; simmer until chicken is heated through. Salt to taste. Ladle soup in bowls; sprinkle cilantro on top.

Make it a meal by serving with corn bread or baked corn chips. Pair it with a light fruity Barbera such as the one from Glass House on the Monticello Wine Trail; or – if you’d prefer a white – Keswick’s Viognier or the zingy Seyval Blanc from Barrel Oak Winery.

Apple and Carrot Soup
About 6-7 cups (8 appetizers/ 2 to 4 servings as main dish)

Tomatillo chicken chowder - photo by Sylvie Rowand.

Tomatillo chicken chowder - photo by Sylvie Rowand.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, peeled, halved, thinly sliced
2 celery stalk, thinly sliced
5 large carrots, peeled and sliced
2 large sweet-tart or tart cooking apples (such as MacIntosh, Gravenstein or Macoun), cored and chopped (peeling optional)
1 teaspoon curcuma powder
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 knob ginger (about 1/2 inch), minced
4 cups good-quality chicken broth or light vegetable broth, preferably homemade – more as desired
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper, to taste – optional
Basil or parsley, finely minced – optional

Heat up a large Dutch-oven pan over medium heat, add oil. Add onion, celery, salt, and cook until onions are soft and translucent (but not brown), stirring occasionally, about 10-15 minutes.

Increase heat, add carrots, apples, curcuma, cumin, coriander and ginger. Stir fry for two minutes, until fragrant.Add broth. Bring to boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer until carrots and apples are soft, about 20 to 30 minutes.

Purée soup in small batches in a blender until smooth. Pour back into pan. Add cayenne, salt and pepper to taste. Thin with additional broth (or water) if desired. Ladle in soup bowls; garnish with basil. 

A great soup to serve with a grilled cheese sandwich (especially one with shavings of Virginia ham), it pairs well with Barboursville Vineyards’ Pinot Grigio or Rockbridge Vineyard’s Riesling.

Sylvie Rowand’s Laughing Duck Gardens & Cookery LLC provides in-home catering services for dinner parties using local seasonal ingredients sourced from the Northern Virginia Piedmont. She also teaches cooking and canning workshops, writes about seasonal food and good eating for various publications, and maintains a food and kitchen gardening blog. You may reach her through her web site: