Potato Soup

A Simple Warmth

I buy almost exactly the same foods every time I go to the grocery store. Sure, if there’s a sale on something I may break out of my comfort zone, but the divine and changing winds of spontaneity don’t often fill my sails when I’m slumping through Kroger. Even when I do buy new foods, it can hardly be called a splurge. For example, this week I bought organic bananas instead of non-organic. Riveting, right?

So was the situation when I branched out and bought a bag of potatoes. I had no idea what I would use them for. In fact, I’ve never been a huge fan of potatoes. Those divine winds make you do (mildly) crazy things though.

When I bought them, my Crock Pot was in the back of my mind. I realized once I was halfway done peeling two pounds of potatoes, however, that I did not know what to make out of them. I did what any good Crock Pot user would do: called my mother. Within seconds, she had (very intentionally) reminded me that potato soup was the obvious choice and also (not so intentionally) of the woman who used to make potato soup for me: Granny Mar.

For a long time, I wasn’t sure how my Granny Mar got her name. That was just what everyone called her — and I mean everyone. My mother, my grandfather, her nephews, nieces, her many, many grandchildren and even family friends. It was just the perfect way to describe the stooped, white-haired woman from whom all of us had descended.

Being the great grandmother of the family had perks like that. Even if she sometimes did things that seemed crazy, no one would call her out. I remember my dad telling me the story of when he first met my mom’s Granny. It was a holiday season, of course, and after driving through some not so nice portions of Avondale Estates, they had finally made it the cute little yellow house where Granny Mar lived. Outside on the front porch in a rocking chair sat Granny, sipping lukewarm beer through a straw. And you can bet my mom and dad politely gave her a hug and slipped into the house to join the rest of the family, Granny Mar barely pausing her rocking or her drinking for them.

I see this woman maybe twice a year — three times a year at most. Christmas, Thanksgiving and the occasional Easter are the only good excuses we have to crowd the tiny house with our group of relatives 20 strong. Even when we are at her house, there wasn’t a great opportunity just to hang out with her. The times spent there are “family” occasions, rich in reconnecting lightly with an assorted variety of those third (or maybe it’s just second?) cousins that are related to you by only God and your mother know how. There is rarely a time where I sit down and talk only with Granny for longer than a couple of minutes.

Despite our relative distance, I’ve always felt a connection to Granny. Her birthday is the month before mine, making her almost exactly 70 years my senior. And she’s always — even at her small current size — had a love for food that I could heartily appreciate. Whenever we do reunite those few times a year, there is never the awkwardness that I sometimes felt with other relatives. Granny is always just the way she was: kind and warm and unadorned.

Thus returns the potato soup to the story. It was so simple to make, such a memorable little recipe that it had completely slipped my mind. Potatoes, milk, cheese, salt, and pepper were the only things involved. When I got off the phone with my mom, I had all the ingredients ready and cooking away in the Crock Pot within 10 minutes.

While it was cooking, I occasionally returned to check its progress. See if the potatoes were still firm, if the cheese was melting correctly. I encountered no problems, felt the heat gently rise into my face every time I removed the lid as a sign that all was well.

Then there was the eating. And oh, how the eating was good. The complexity of its flavor matched the complexity of the recipe, but the simple savory soup filled me in a way that not many other foods I’ve made have done. I have to imagine that it had something to do with its nature: warm and unadorned.

After I realized that I couldn’t possibly finish the more than two pounds of soup in one sitting, I packaged it away, stowed it in the fridge for the future. Every time I returned to it, it was just as good. If not better.