If we can cook it, you can cook it!

Not My Mother’s Vichyssoise

         Cold Soup is ideal to have on hand in summer heat.  You can make this soup up, store it in the fridge and then take it out and finish it off for any occasion.  When houseguests first arrive, they’re inevitably exhausted from their trip and a bit peck-ish.  It’s nice to greet them with a glass this rich, creamy soup and perhaps a tomato sandwich made with farm stand tomatoes on thin-sliced white bread.  This simple welcome will bide them over until dinner.  You can make up a glorious gazpacho, truly fresh tomato soup or you can put a little French accent on the proceedings with this recipe for Vichyssoise, a completely American invention.
         One of my strongest and earliest food memories is of my Mother’s Vichyssoise.  It is deeply associated with my first kitchen task, which was to go out to where we grew herbs, and cut the chives that inevitably floated on the top of our bowls of cool, creamy Vichyssoise.  The soup is simplicity itself to make involving only 5 ingredients including the salt. 
Good Old Fashioned Baking Potatoes
are best for making Vichyssoise

         Now anyone who knew my Mother would be very skeptical that she actually made her own Vichyssoise.  She was of the Campbell’s Soup School of Cooking, which held that if someone else made a perfectly reasonable bowl of soup that happened to come in a can, there was absolutely no reason for her to do so.  This led me to check our local supermarket to see if I could discover the source of my Mother’s version of the soup.  Much to my astonishment, they don’t make Vichyssoise. However, they do make Cream of Potato Soup so I think I did uncover the source of my mother’s recipe.  Because in truth, that’s pretty much what Vichyssoise is. 

Louis Diat, the inventor of Vichyssoise

         A recipe for a hot potato and leek soup dates back to a French chef called Jules Gouffé who then published a version in The Royal Cookery Book (1869).  Louis Diat, the chef at New York City’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, claimed to enjoy that particular soup as a young child. In 1950, Diat told The New Yorker magazine: “In the summer of 1917, when I had been at the Ritz seven years, I reflected upon the potato-and-leek soup of my childhood that my mother and grandmother used to make. I recalled how, during the summer, my older brother and I used to cool it off by pouring in cold milk and how delicious it was. I resolved to make something of the sort for the patrons of the Ritz.”  Thus was born Vichyssoise, which the chef named after the spa town of Vichy close to Diat’s birthplace in France.  It’s the simplest of recipes and produces an absolutely flawless version of the soup—the flavor of the leeks is more pronounced than I ever remember in my Mother’s version but the cool creaminess brings back a flood of memories of the summer nights when we would eat dinner on our terrace watching the first fireflies come to life with the setting sun.   Here is the recipe:

6 thoughts on “Not My Mother’s Vichyssoise”

  • Interesting, the funny thing is that when it is as hot as it is presently, soup does not come to mind. UNLESS you are the person preparing the meals. Then the simplicity of chilled soup and sandwiches are always a win-win situation! And Monte, God bless mom and her Campbell's! Seems you turned out pretty o.k anyway! C: C:

  • Ana, the tomato sandwich is an old Southern specialty. Just ripe tomato, mayo, s&p on white bread. It's so good. And the soup is truly something to keep in the fridge at all times. I just keep making it up and leaving it there. I am reading a book about Craig Clairborne called "The man who changed the way we eat" (Thomas McNamee / Free Press 2012) and apparently my mother's style of cooking was de rigeur in the 50s–convenience foods all the way! The whole reason I started to cook was because, when I told my parents I was getting divorced the first thing my mother said was "You'll never eat properly again". I set out to prove her wrong. And I do occasionally use someone else's soup. In fact, I am addicted to Trader Joe's Cream of Tomato soup. I am not even sure I could do better.

  • Monte,

    I'm always inspired by true foodies' desire to nurture their old recipes year after year. The sign of a true lover of all things food-related is this post! Campbell's soup was king back in the day and brings to mind many fond memories for me. I too am one who turns to old recipes I've kept for decades that may not necessarily be "gourmet" but hold a special place in my life and memories. It's interesting to me how some people turn their noses up at any recipe that includes a canned soup as an ingredient. Those types of people don't see it the way we do. Whether you use it or not, to appreciate its role in food history is to appreciate an era that, in some homes, still lives on.

    I always appreciate reading or discussing anything food-related with people who really "get" it!

    Once again, great post!


  • Hi Katie and thanks for the compliment. As I was writing this, I was reading Craig Claiborne's new biography "The man who changed the way we eat" by Thomas McNamee. According to Mr. C, my mother's affection for all things that got her out of the kitchen as fast as humanly possible (Campbell's Soups, Swanson TV dinners, etc) was a sign that the US was in complete culinary decline. He of course took credit for stopping us all from driving off that particular cliff. I will say that this Vichyssoise recipe was considerably better than the Campbell's version I remember. It did, however, take about five times longer that my mother would have ever allowed. I had an encounter with Craig Claiborne which I have written about here and which you might enjoy…however little I enjoyed it! Here's the link to the page:http://chewingthefat.us.com/2011/12/new-years-day-black-eyed-peas-delicious.html

  • How often we meet people who slaughter our hopes and dreams of who they actually are is a far too common occurence. Our preconceptions can be so dangerous. To think one session with him left such a bitter taste….how unfortunate. But, some of the most inventive minds are housed in the most miserable of people.

    I've always hesitated to engage in conversation with Paul Prudhomme, one of my culinary heroes, who I see often in New Orleans, for the very same reason you relayed. I don't want my image of him to be ruined. He inspired me with his first cookbook to epic proportions.

    I've been a Craig Claiborne recipe fan for a long time, as well. His cookbooks were some of the first I purchased and remember fondly as the starting point for a decades-long love affair with collecting. I still cook from them and enjoy the nostalgia-like feelings each brings. As one who constantly searches for new and inventive ways with food, to return to such tried and true gems is a comfort unlike any.

    You inspired me to buy a copy of "The man who changed the way we eat". It's in my "to be read" stack and I look forward to any impressions you might want to share.

    You, sir, are a gem to share these experiences. I enjoy each of your posts and look forward to the next.

    Take care and thank you,

  • Dear Katie, Our idols have feet of clay! An older friend told me that when she was at Smith College, all the women there would cut out every Craig Claiborne recipe in preparation for graduation and the times when they would have their own homes, husbands and kitchens to deal with. I think you will find, as you read the biography, that a great deal of Mr. Claiborne's charm was subsumed in a sea of alcohol. He had an extraordinary appetite for the stuff. And it certainly colored his relationships and not in a good way. I just used Paul Prud'homme's blackening in a recipe recipe. My, it was good. MM

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