Carrot soup is of the vegetarian and health food ilk, with excellent recipes in the best of cookbooks, such as The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas, The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, and Whole Foods For The Whole Family of the La Leche League. The soup is loved by naturalists for its pure vegetablism, for its being so not-meat, as well as for the carrot being a useful and handy ingredient waiting to be made into a meal wherever it’s farmed. The sweet puree of carrots tends to hearken itself unto Eastern spices, such as curry and cumin. Though carrots are stuck in dirt all over this good Earth, carrot soup recipes never get quite exotic or overtreated.
Chef Todd Richards of One Flew South submits a recipe from the past for the Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook published of late. His Carrot Soup with Bourbon and Ginger comes out of his experience in a Louisville hotel kitchen where he learned the loose maxim, “Live long in Louisville and you start putting bourbon in everything.” His carrot soup is pure, fresh, classy proof of the Southern ability to not only cook “down home”, but also to bring a recipe up to ritz.
Rewinding to the late 18th century, Mrs. Mary Cowgill Corbit of Odessa, Delaware kept up “The Ledger of Corbit Receipts”. No, this wasn’t a Revolutionary War-era accounting record, but a feather-penned log of fifty prized family recipes (“receipts”) passed down through several generations. Though the Corbits once ordered furniture according to the Quaker rule of choosing the “best sort but plain”, Mrs. Corbit’s housekeeper, Alcy (short for Alice), took care of a carrot soup a bit more desirable than one by which the Quaker rule of “plain” would abide.
The housekeeper and the chef enter the ring and proceed to their culinary corners.
Alcy’s soup begins with the universal formula for sweet cooked carrots, starting with cooking onions in butter. She adds potatoes, carrots, chicken stock, and thyme to cook until tender, 30 to 40 minutes. The potatoes lend a chowder-ness to Alcy’s soup, and that length of cooking time would render caramelization to her slow-cooked starting veggies.
Chef Richards sautes onion and carrots in extra virgin olive oil, cooking the seasoned vegetables until just beginning to caramelize, 15 to 20 minutes. He drops minced garlic and finely-grated ginger into the pot for 1 minute before introducing the bourbon.
Alcy has let her cooked vegetables cool slightly and purees them through a food mill. Heavy cream, milk, anchovy sauce, sugar, and hot sauce are incorporated into the puree; then all is brought to just boiling. After Richards’ garlic and ginger have had their brief moment, he adds the bourbon, first using it to deglaze the fond found at the bottom of the pot, then reducing it by half in 10 minutes. He stirs in carrot juice, chicken stock, and a bay leaf, continuing the heating for another 20 minutes. He throws in thyme, throws out the bay leaf, and purees the soup, which is then strained.
Alcy suggests that the soup can be served hot or cold, and that “Chopped mint is nice for a garnish.” Richards has a brilliant, scrumptious garnish in store, whipping heavy cream with bourbon to soft peaks, donating to the soup a dollop.
A real chef takes delight in being compared to a master housekeeper of old, because it’s the proud heritage of foodmaking he honors. In their book, the Southern Foodways Alliance equates devoted cooks, without making either amateur or professional cooks seem irrelevant, placing their recipes side-by-side, bound by the shared magic of fire and knife.