Hygge: a Danish word meaning a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality.
For the next year, Silver Special Collections staff will share their adventures cooking with recipes from our Vermont cookbook collection. Sharon Thayer starts the series with this post on her chosen comfort food.
November. The end of daylight savings time, bare gray tree branches, dropping temperatures, wanting to be warm and cozy. This time of year makes me think of snug domesticity. Especially in the midst of pandemic living–staying home, cooking all of my meals, and reading so many Instagram/Facebook posts documenting the triumphs of our national flirtation with home baking—I turn to comfort food.
Several years ago the Special Collections winter holiday get-together was a potluck lunch of soups and breads at a colleague’s house out in the Vermont countryside (as opposed to the suburban Burlington-area homes for the rest of us). We met at her house on a clear, cold, sunny early January day around noon. The idea was to spend some time outdoors before gathering in the kitchen to share a communal meal. Guests brought four kinds of homemade soup and several freshly made breads, and our host provided a huge green salad and holiday candies and cookies for dessert. It was a fantastic feast of good food and good will.
So when I thought about a blog post on comfort food, soup and bread came to mind. I wanted recipes that were delicious, but simple, not taking too much time and work. I wanted to use Vermont ingredients and products as much as possible. And the recipes had to match my rather limited skill set in the kitchen. After browsing our Vermont cookbook collection, I selected recipes from two modern cookbooks.
For the soup, I chose a cheddar cheese soup recipe. I considered several, but most had beer or ale as an ingredient, which did not appeal to me. The recipe I made, “Potage de Vermont,” is from Tony Clark’s New Blueberry Hill Cookbook (1990). Laurie Caswell, chef at the Blueberry Hill Inn in Goshen from 1981 to 1982, provided the recipe, which she served as a first course. The soup was wonderful. I used three kinds of Cabot cheddar: Vermont Sharp, New York Extra Sharp, and Seriously Sharp Cheddar. I made minor changes to the recipe, substituting dry dill for fresh and leaving out the toasted sesame seeds garnish. The result was delicious.
For the bread, I wanted a hearty rustic loaf to go with the rather rich soup. In the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion All Purpose Cookbook (2003), I found a basic version of Irish soda bread. The “Irish Dairy Bread” recipe called for buttermilk and baking soda as the leavening agents.
Sadly, the bread was disappointing. I followed the recipe to the letter, but it was too pale coming out of the oven. I baked it a bit longer, but didn’t want to overbake it. Per the recipe, I let it cool completely for the structure to set. I expected a hearty peasant loaf. I got a heavy round that was too pale and hard as a brick – if I had thrown it at someone, I daresay they would have been injured. Even slathered with Cabot Creamery butter, it was not very appealing. However, the smell of fresh bread in the house was divine.
Although I will draw a veil over the soda bread experience, I added a new comfort food recipe to my collection. I will definitely make “Potage de Vermont” again.