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Heirloom recipes 1: Mum’s leek and potato soup

This recipe marks the beginning of a new series of posts for which I am inviting people to submit their own (what I call) ‘heirloom recipes’ for publication on this blog.

An heirloom recipe is a dish that has been passed down to you by someone you love, most probably during your childhood, but not always, that you remember strongly. It will perhaps be a dish that you still cook on a semi-regular basis as a means to remind you of the person who cooked it for you and the time you were first introduced to it. Your heirloom recipes may well be the dishes you consider to be comfort foods, and they may also be, I expect, the most child-friendly foods in your repertoire, but not necessarily. Part of what excites me about starting this project, is not knowing what threads are going to emerge, if any.

This is a particularly special project for me because since I started this blog I have realised that the key thing that draws me to the topic of food is its capacity to connect us with our past, our culture and those close to us. Food to me is not just about nutrition, sustenance or flavour, even. I believe that the dishes we come back to throughout our lives also represent an important part of what makes us who we are.

My ultimate ‘heirloom recipe’ has to be my mum’s leek and potato soup. I’ve even had arguments with people over how to make leek and potato soup before because it’s not any old version that matters to me, it’s this one, and so much so I avoid eating it in any other form. I ate this soup regularly throughout my childhood but I remember it being especially important when I had a cold. When I was off school ill, Mum and I would hole up in the living room, talking, watching telly and enjoying a slow, snotty build up to lunch – and sometimes dinner as well – comprising giant bowls of thick leek and potato soup seasoned heavily with black pepper.

My little girl has been ill with a cold today so, instinctively, the first thing I did this morning was put a batch of leek and potato on to be ready in time for lunch. I then looked on proudly as she guzzled down three bowls of the stuff, much like I used to.

As with most things, the nostalgia I attach to this dish is all in the little details. Mum’s leek and potato has to be left to simmer really gently for at least an hour and a half. The skins must be left on the potatoes; it must be mashed by hand, not with a blender; and it must contain plenty of black pepper so that there is a possibility of retrieving a bit of hot peppercorn from in-between your teeth after eating it. Break any of these rules and the soup will simply not evoke in me any of the same feelings of warmth, familiarity and love, and I doubt whether it will help cure a cold either!


Mum’s leek and potato soup

Serves 4

Butter, for frying
1 onion, finely chopped
2 medium leeks, sliced thinly (include plenty of the green bits)
3-4 medium potatoes, cubed, skins left on
600ml fresh chicken stock, preferably from a roast
Salt and black pepper
Milk, to taste (about 100ml)

Melt the butter in a heavy casserole and fry the chopped onion and leek gently until well and truly softened, stirring regularly for at least 10 minutes. Add the cubed potatoes and continue cooking gently for about 5 minutes. Add the fresh chicken stock and bring to a light boil. Leave on a very low heat for an hour and a half to two hours, until really thick. Season well with salt and pepper then mash the soup with a potato masher. Pour in a little milk to loosen it; the soup should be thick enough to coat the mouth and very pale green in colour, not too creamy. (As a young child I had extra milk to make the soup cool enough to eat but now I am grown up I prefer just a splosh.)

If you are a food professional, a blogger, or simply a keen home cook and reader of this site, I would be delighted to receive your submissions for this column. In exchange for your time I can offer publicity in the form of a brief intro and links to your business as part of the post and a related ‘heads up’ on my Facebook page, Instagram & Twitter. As this is a personal project I hope you appreciate I cannot offer payment. All submissions will be read and responded to but I reserve the right whether to publish or not and contributions will be edited by me as necessary.

To take part please email me your recipe along with a paragraph or two about who and where it came from and why it is important to you in no more than 250 words. Please also include a brief introduction to who you are and your connection to the food industry (if relevant). I will be especially delighted if you can also provide an old photograph (jpg, 72dpi, 1000 pixels wide) of yourself or the friend/family member who gave you the dish.

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About Chloe King

I'm a freelance writer, designer and webby type. I live with my husband and daughter in the south of England. I like to cook and can throw a good party.

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11 comments on “Heirloom recipes 1: Mum’s leek and potato soup

  1. March 20, 2014 at 9:12 am

    What a wonderful idea and a lovely post Chloe, and also a really fabulous recipe too – my mum also makes a great leek and potato soup, but that’s not her “signature heirloom” recipe however! I will email you today or tomorrow with my heirloom recipe! Karen

    • March 20, 2014 at 1:40 pm

      Thank you Karen, I’m so glad you will be contributing. I have thought about starting this thread for probably a year now but it finally seems the right time. I also wish I could impress with a less straightforward dish than leek and potato soup. I’m sure my mum, if she were still here, would be saying ‘I’m a better cook than that!’ but if I’m honest, whenever I think of this topic I always come back to this soup.

  2. March 20, 2014 at 9:38 am

    I really love this idea. Trouble is, my heirloom foods don’t really come with recipes attached. Crackers with welsh butter (completely ruined if the butter isnt’ spread RIGHT to the edges)… Welsh cakes but they have to be bought by a great aunt with thick ankles from Carmarthen market otherwise they are NOTHING to me….

    • March 20, 2014 at 1:46 pm

      Haha! Thanks Hattie. I have a feeling that many, many ‘heirloom’ dishes won’t require recipes but I’m not sure whether that means they can’t be included as part of this. Perhaps I should also start a thread called ‘heirloom nibbles’ for the butter and crackers gang? Another major one of mine is a Granny Smith apple with a breadstick threaded through the centre (courtesy my grandad). Best served with some salty Stilton. Grandad could never believe that even as a preschooler, I enjoyed eating blue cheese.

  3. March 20, 2014 at 10:02 am

    Hi Chloe – this is such a lovely post and the soup sounds absolutely gorgeous! I have a recipe I can send you to consider – will try and do so over the weekend 🙂

    • March 20, 2014 at 1:48 pm

      Thanks so much Selma, I’m really looking forward to receiving your submission 🙂 xx

  4. March 21, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    That’s a lovely idea and I reckon leek and potato soup is my favourite.

    • March 21, 2014 at 3:24 pm

      Thank you! I’m biased, clearly, but the simple ones are the best.

  5. April 7, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    What a beautiful recipe, full of sentiment and warmth. It is often the simple recipes that invoke the most special memories in our mind. I will definitely try and enter this series.

    • April 9, 2014 at 9:20 pm

      Thank you Tina! I look forward to your entry 🙂

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