A Delicious Soup Recipe for a Soggy Spring
The mailman takes his lunch by the small graveyard at the side of a nearby dead-end road. He’s been doing this for well over a year, during snow storms, summer heat waves, as the autumn leaves fall gracefully from the trees, and now, as spring shouts out its glorious green song. I have seen him there, quietly eating his sandwich in the white truck with the red and blue stripes, and wondered what it is that draws him to this particular cemetery. It’s a small family plot, surrounded by a low, sturdy stone wall, that dates back to the early 1800s, full of wonderful old Maine names that have long gone out of style: Eben, Tabitha, Keziah, Ivory, Polly…
Today when I was walking the dog down the road the mailman waved to me from his truck. I could see he had the side sliding door of the truck open. He seemed so happy, so quietly content on this cool May morning that I turned the other way so not to disturb his peace. And his lunch ritual, alone with nature alongside the cemetery, made something in me shift. I guess the word would be “reflective.” I feel myself more closely in touch with the woods and my surroundings.
I’d been away for a few days and the woods look changed as I make my way along the path. The skunk cabbage, which was just an inch high with maroon- and green-looking orchid-like unfurled leaves is now almost a foot tall, its bright green leaves beginning to fill the air with its strange, often overpowering stink.
Along the side of a stream I discover sorrel, that magnificent spring green that spreads like a weed. It turns out this small, arrowhead-shaped leaf (which looks a lot like arugula) grows wild throughout Maine and is highly edible. It spreads itself through my garden and every spring I always seem to forget it’s not a weed and start pulling it up. But as soon as I rip out a few leaves the scent of citrus is released, as if someone has just juiced a dozen lemons. It has a wonderful wild green flavor, added to salads, sandwiches, and used as the base of a soup. Make sure you smell a strong lemony scent (some call it “brashy”) released when you pick the green so you know it’s really sorrel, and not something else. I grab a few leaves and munch on them as I make my way down the path.
Along the way I pass an old abandoned garden, a small rectangle of earth surrounded by a rusty, falling down wire fence. I imagine the family that might have owned it, maybe one of Eben or Polly or Keziah’s ancestors in the mailman’s cemetery. The garden is mostly filled with dandelions, and thick patches of weeds, but when I look closely I see asparagus poking up through a clump of leaves. I find six or eight tall, thin stalks just crying out for attention. I clear the leaves away, which reveal a few more stalks hiding beneath the ground mulch. I nibble on one, and pick a few more to bring home for lunch. My little spring walk is turning into quite a picnic.
By the time I turn back the mailman is gone, en route to deliver all those packages, bills, catalogues, and stacks of junk mail (ever notice that nothing good comes in the mail anymore?). I stare at the empty graveyard, my mouth full of the lingering wild spring lemon flavor, my pocket stuffed with orphaned asparagus, and plan my lunch.
Spring Asparagus and Sorrel Soup
Look for locally grown asparagus for this soup. Sorrel is found in the wild and sold at farmers markets. If you can’t find sorrel you can substitute arugula and about 1/8th teaspoon grated lemon zest. This soup is ideal for a cool spring night or can be served chilled during hotter weather. Serve plain or top with plain, thick Greek-style yogurt, heavy cream, or crème fraiche or sour cream.
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, about 9 ounces, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
¼ cup chopped scallion, white and green parts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound asparagus
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock, or 2 cups stock and 2 cups water*
1/2 to 3/4 cup sorrel, see note above
*To make a light asparagus-flavored broth, add the tough ends of the asparagus to a pot filled with 5 cups water, 1 celery stalk, 1 carrot and 1 chopped onion. Add salt and 6 peppercorns and simmer for about 1 hour. Strain and use.
Heat the oil over low heat in a large soup pot. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for 10 minutes. Add the chives and scallions and cook another 2 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the very tough ends off the asparagus (when they are really fresh and just out of the ground you don’t need to cut much off) and discard or use for an asparagus broth; see above. Cut the trimmed asparagus stalk into one-inch pieces and cut off the very top tips and set the tips aside.
Add the one-inch pieces of the asparagus stalks, stir, and cook 2 minutes. Raise the heat to high, add the stock and or water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and let cook about 15-20 minutes, or until the asparagus are completely tender.
Transfer the soup to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Place the puree back into the pot and taste for seasoning. About 10 minutes before serving, add the reserved asparagus tips and reheat over low heat until the asparagus tips are just tender, but not overly soft or falling apart. Serve hot or chilled. Serves 4.