Although friends and family who live in northern climates do not believe that the winter season exists in Florida, it does exist. Today, we awakened to temperatures in the 40s and a predicted high in the mid-60s, which is fireplace and comfort food weather. In my area of the world, which is St. Petersburg, Florida, it is a time of Camellia blossoms, Azalea blooms, brilliant Brazilian Bouganvillea displays, and time to consider planting bulbs for Caladiums, Cannas, and Irises. It is time for us to be vigilant about whether our flashy sub-tropical foliage plants, Crotons, require protection from the cold. It is time to bundle up for walks around our Saturday Morning market on the Old Tampa Bay waterfront to peruse the organic farms’ winter crop of kale, squashes, beets, and colorful pigeon beans.
Today, I awakened to a low temperature in the 40s, lit a fire in the fireplace, lit some fragrant candles, and enjoyed a cup of coffee by the fireplace as I reviewed the Sunday newspaper. Then, we bundled up in scarves and jackets for a neighborhood walk. Sunday is typically a day at home for us, and a traditional Sunday dinner. Today, I visited a neighborhood church, which was established in 1924, and is dying. The pastor tells me that 9 churches close daily in America, no longer a central institution in the lives of Americans. I visited, because this church has served the neighborhood that has been my home for 33 years, and the idea that this church, which used to boast 1400 members is dying and may disappear concerns my community. It is not only a significant and lovely historic building, but it has had a central place in lives of many families in my beloved neighborhood until its congregation began to diminish 10 years ago.
A group of neighbors invited me to strategize with them about giving the church a rebirth as a community center. So, my day began considering challenges and opportunities. I was enthralled with the herb, vegetable and butterfly garden that was planted in the front yard by the teachers and the fifty students of the school that resides at the church. I met people in their 70s and 80s who have been members of this congregation for much of their adult lives. The congregation has dwindled to three households, and 25 people attended the service this morning. The Pastor tells me that there will never be a viable congregation here again, and there are many factors. This was a rather sad way to begin my day, but I am hopeful that our community may find a way to give this church a new life.
For Sunday dinner today, we found ourselves in the mood for a comforting soup. This is when a well-stocked pantry is helpful. I recently tasted a butter bean soup at a favorite restaurant on Beach Drive on the waterfront, Moon Under Water. This is a British Colonial Pub, with traditional Fish and Chips on the menu, with a pale-ale, crisp batter, tandoori, a variety of good curries, and pasties and Shepherd’s Pie. One very chilly day this Fall, I enjoyed a hearty soup of the day, a Butter Bean Soup–simple and comforting. So, after finding broth and four fifteen ounce cans of Butter Beans in my pantry, garlic, onions and carrots in my larder and refrigerator, I decided to see if I could create a similarly satisfying soup.
This soup suits my evolving sensibility about eating less meat and using meat more as a flavoring agent than as a main course. You can easily make this soup totally vegetarian or vegan if you like. I picked up a small ham steak for smoky flavor, but just four ounces will flavor a large pot of soup. This soup comes together in 40 minutes at most.
Smoky Butter Bean Soup,, recipe by Susan Rebillot
Serves 6 generously
1 large Vidalia onion, or two mini Vidalias, which I had on hand and which look like gigantic scallions
2 carrots, scrubbed and cut into a small dice
3 ribs celery, diced
3 fat cloves garlic, peeled, smashed, chopped finely
4 ounces smoked ham, cut into small cubes, or perhaps smoked sausage
4-15 ounce cans of butter beans, or the equivalent in frozen (O loved dried, but can rarely find them, and then the cooking time is much longer)
32 ounces of chicken or vegetable broth
1 Tablespoons dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
in a 3 or 4 quart soup or stew pot, heat just a drizzle of vegetable oil over medium-high heat.
Add the ham or sausage and cook just for a few minutes to render some of the flavor-enhancing fat.
Add the onions, celery, carrots, and garlic, and cook for a few minutes until the vegetables are just softened.
Add the drained butter beans, broth, herbs, salt and pepper.
Bring just to a low boil and then turn the heat down to simmer for about a half hour.
Just prior to serving, I like to use my immersion blender to blend the soup, just a few pulses. I want to create a creaminess while leaving a lot of intact beans.
You may want to garnish each bowl with a drizzle of your best extra virgin olive oil and some sprigs of fresh thyme from the herb garden.
We served this simply with crusty rolls, a glass of a crisp Belgian cider for me and a malty Samuel Adams Octoberfest beer for John. This is a hearty, satisfying soup with a creamy texture, but with some chewy texture of whole beans and vegetables, and a smoky flavor contributed by the ham. A crusty bread is a wonderful counterpoint to the creaminess of the soup, and when we ate leftovers, we added a bit of sharp Kerrygold cheddar melted over the rolls as they warmed in the oven.
Simple Sunday supper for a cold winter day.