MFK Fisher’s Potato Soup
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My mother gave me MFK Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf for Christmas, and I have been thumbing through it ever since, dog-earing recipes I hope to revisit soon. In the meantime I’ve been living on Fisher’s creamy potato soup. This is partly because I still have many pounds of potatoes on my counter, partly because I sense a friend, whom I encouraged to take on a winter CSA, is a little overwhelmed by said potatoes (sorry, Martha!), but mostly because the soup is simply delicious: sauté two onions, add four peeled potatoes and water, simmer till tender, add milk (thickened with a roux), and purée.
Before making this soup, I had never read any of MFK Fisher’s recipes, which, I am learning, give the reader a lot of credit. Just as Alice Waters may assume you have a pig’s foot in your refrigerator, MFK Fisher assumes you know how to make a roux. There is no hand-holding in the direction, though her notes are detailed.
For example, in the potato soup recipe, she insists you pass the vegetables through a strainer, and not just any strainer, “a fine strainer,” and continues to observe “increasingly that most average cooks … grow careless about sieves and strainers. They usually compromise after a few years in the kitchen with one general-utility implement that will cope more or less with their normal duties. Tut tut tut!”
MFK Fisher likely would be horrified by my use of a general-utility immersion blender but, what can I say, it works.
I haven’t finished How to Cook a Wolf yet, but I am liking it very much. Fisher wrote the book during World War II as a way to encourage good cooking and living in a time of shortages and ration cards. She believed “that one of the most dignified ways we are capable of, to assert and then reassert our dignity in the face of poverty and war’s fears and pains, is to nourish ourselves with all possible skill, delicacy, and ever-increasing enjoyment. And with our gastronomical growth will come, inevitably, knowledge and perception of a hundred other things, but mainly ourselves.”
She gives recipes for mouth wash and soap and tomato soup cake. She gives lots of advice; she tells funny stories. Half the time I have no idea what she is talking about, and half the time I relish every sentence: “Probably the most satisfying soup in the world for people who are hungry, as well as for those who are tired or worried or cross or in debt or in a moderate amount of pain or in love or in robust health or in any kind of business huggermuggery, is minestrone.”
Anyway, Friends, it was 1 degree this morning. Winter has arrived. If you haven’t prepared for soup season, here’s a quick review of the essentials: homemade stock, vegetable or chicken, plastic quart containers for freezing that stock or soup, a good peeler, a sharp knife, etc.
I served the soup with some herby croutons, but mini loaves of bread would also have been fun. I split the peasant bread dough into four and baked the loaves in empty McCann steel cut oat tins.
MFK Fisher’s Potato Soup
- Yield: 4 servings
Adapted from MFK Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf
- 2 onions, sliced thin
- 4 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced (1.33 lbs | 600 g, roughly)
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 4 tablespoons butter
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3 cups milk, 2% or whole
- chopped herbs such as parsley or chives, optional
- Sauté the onions in 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium to medium-low heat for 15 minutes, or until tender and just beginning to turn color. Add the potatoes and water to cover, about 2½ cups. Simmer until tender, about 20 minutes.
- In a separate pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until a light brown paste forms, a minute or so. Roux should be gently bubbling. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly. Bring milk mixture to a gentle simmer, stir, then keep warm.
- When potatoes are tender, add milk mixture to the pot. Use an immersion blender to purée until smooth or transfer mixture to food processor or blender (be careful with blender — I don’t like using my blender for hot soups because I’ve had the top go shooting off and soup spraying everywhere). Season with salt (at least a teaspoon) and lots of fresh cracked pepper. Bring soup to a gentle simmer, stirring to ensure it isn’t sticking to bottom of pot. Taste and adjust as needed with more salt or pepper. Add herbs if using. Thin with more water or milk if necessary.
- When reheating the soup, thin with water as needed and adjust seasoning to taste.
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28 Comments on “MFK Fisher’s Potato Soup”
I like the minimal ingredients in this recipe. I had potato soup last night when we went out to dinner and it had so many ingredients I honestly couldn’t tell what kind of soup I was eating! Looking forward to trying this one.
Your photograph is beautiful! By the way, when I was making your cranberry snow scones, my daughter was looking at your recipe and commented on what a talented photographer you are. She does photography as a hobby and really admires your work. Of course, she already knows what a great cook you are as many of your recipes have become family favorites! Also, she is learning to cook from your recipes and appreciates how your directions are easy to follow.
Have a good one!
Trish, this makes me so happy. Tell your daughter thank you for me — it means so much. I hope we can cook and photograph together sometime?! Would be so nice to meet your family.
You are so sweet! It would be a dream!
I would like to comment on your post today, specifically your question of what makes your readers return to your blog again and again. For me, it is simple. Your blog nourishes my soul…
Trish, YOU are so sweet. Thank you. That means so much. xoxo
it looks so delicous and easy to made!
i will cook it for my family – your babygirl looks soo sweet!
Thank you, Netzchen…she is a doll 🙂
I really appreciate your review of MFK Fisher’s cookbook. I’ve never read any of her recipes before either, and now I’m intrigued to find a copy of her book. We’ll definitely be trying this soup soon. Thanks, Aly!
Thanks, Michelle! She is funny. I don’t know how many more recipes I will make, but I love flipping through the book anyway. Might be a good library loan?
The soup looks good. But the bread looks amazing! Brilliant to cook in the oatmeal tins. I am sooo trying that after I finish 3 cans of oats!
Yes, you must! It is so much fun. The key with the steel cut oat tins is to use a can opener to remove the bottom of the tin. And grease it well with butter of course 🙂
Can you elaborate a little on the tin can baking method?! I kuuust try this but im afraid to mess it all up! 😀
Hi Amy! So sorry for the delay here! OK, the best way to do it is to remove both ends of the tin—one pops off, and one you’ll need to use a can opener. Grease them, being very careful of sharp edges—this would be a good time to use nonstick spray. Then, place the tins on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You can divide the peasant bread into fourths and plop each portion into the greased tin being careful not to move the tin once the dough has been placed inside. Bake at 425 for 15 min, then at 375 for 10 to 15 minutes more. Hope that helps!
Thank you, Mary-Clay!
There is little as soul satisfying as onions and potatoes in soup…..I have loved potato soup my whole life and admit to you here that I never use a recipe! But I will make this from the recipe and add the beautiful herbs and croutons because I want to experience how beautiful that bowl of soup you made is…your photos are a big part of what drew me to your blog from day one….they are soul satisfying too! I am excited to announce that I officially put some of my photos online for sale last month and overcame my ‘ego fear’ as my darling husband puts it! Tig is gorgeous but then that runs in the family!
Laurie, this is amazing! Congrats! And thank you, as always, for your kind words. Tig is such a little dolly right now.
I must’ve done something wrong, because I tried this last night and it was very flavorless and had a runny consistency. I ended up putting sour cream in it to give it a more smooth flavor.
Oh no! Did you make the roux to thicken the milk? How did you purée the soup?
M.F. K. Fisher, along with another great writer (not just about food) of that time, like Elizabeth David, was an amazing woman. Despite her tragedies, she found the wit, she fed the wolf. I like her sentiment that one gorges when mourning – stuff as much good food in until sleep knocks you out, wake, do it again. She wrote wonderful words around recipes. Your mom must be another amazing woman to give you such treasure. Thanks for sharing – I may need to make this soup while reading Ms. Fisher again.
I haven’t read any Elizabeth David — going to see if I can find something from the library. Thanks for writing in, Naomi!
Made this earlier this week and we really enjoyed it. My husband likes a thicker soup so I only used 1 cup of milk.
I also made your Peasant Bread earlier this week and I was so pleased that it came out beautifully. I didn’t have any of the bowls you recommended but I did had a basic 1 qt Pyrex that’s meant for food storage that worked fine. Thanks!
So happy to hear this, Ashley! And glad you were able to make the bread with what you had on hand — I would love it if everyone could do that.
Reading this post, my life flashed before my eyes which were teary from your pictures. M.F.K. Fisher’s How To Cook A Wolf added my my list. Thank you.
Oh, Christina, I’m happy to hear this. Thanks for writing in 🙂
Thanks for sharing, Alexandra! I always return to your blog for simple, delicious food. Food for the soul 🙂 I tried out this soup last night with some buttermilk biscuits. It’s sooooo silky! My husband is not a huge fan of potato soup (or any soup really, except brunswick stew and chili) but he said, “why doesn’t this taste fuzzy?” Haha 🙂 I know what he means. Potato soup can easily be grainy and overly stuffed with goodies like cheese and bacon – I really love the simplicity of this version! The mellow taste and texture actually reminds me of a delicious creamy broccoli soup I had served chilled at a high tea years ago – I’ve never known how to replicate it, but it has haunted my dreams 🙂 Maybe next time I’ll sub broccoli for the potatoes and see what happens?
What is the best type of potato to use?
I have just discovered your site and now can hardly get anything else done!
Haha, I love it, thank you 🙂 🙂 🙂
I think you can use any potato really — we get so many in our CSA, so I just use what I have — yukon gold, russet, anything you like!
So simple and so good. I doubled and froze so I can enjoy in the future. So glad you shared this one with us Ali.
Great to hear, Sherry! I love the simplicity of this recipe as well. Smart to double it!