Tomato Soup with Peanut Butter and Basil

A Taste—Both Exotic and Familiar—in the Same Spoonful

I share an essay on the origins of this fine soup below.

Bill Hettig
With Sourdough Croutons and Torn Basil

As a child growing up in the 50’s, a bowl of cream of tomato soup along with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was a standard and my favorite lunch; especially when dunking a corner of the PB&J into the soup.

Many decades later I was playing around my kitchen and that memory popped up while making a tomato-basil bisque. What if I put peanut butter into the soup?

INGREDIENTS: Serves 5-6

  • olive oil- 2 TBS.
  • onion- 1 cup, (1 small), diced
  • garlic- fresh, 4 tsp., (3 large cloves), minced
  • tomatoes- peeled*, 2 cans, 28 ounce total
  • salt- 1 tsp.
  • soy sauce- 2 TBS.
  • peanut butter- 1/4 cup, creamy style
  • milk- whole, 1 cup, or substitute

GARNISH:

  • basil- fresh, 2 TBS., chopped
  • croutons (opt.)

* You can use in-season tomatoes, crushed tomatoes or canned sauce.

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Prepare the garlic and onion
  2. Soften them in a soup pot with the oil, about 3-5 minutes
  3. Stir in the tomatoes with their liquid, salt, and soy sauce; bring to simmer, partially cover and cook for 20-25 minutes. Reserve the peanut butter and milk until next step
  4. Draw off a little of the soup and stir in the peanut butter then add back to the soup along with the milk; simmer for a few minutes more—do not bring to boil
  5. Use an immersion blender or processor to make slightly textured or fully purée
  6. Serve garnished with chopped, fresh basil and croutons on occasion

Mother is at Home

by Bill Hettig

I heard this saying—only once and I can not even recall its source, but it produced in me some inner stirrings and remembrances, and finally this lovely soup above.

A mother feeds her children three times in her lifetime: 

in the womb, 

at her breast, 

and at her table.

Soon after we are conceived a primal feeling grows within us through rhythms and feedings in the womb. This is not easily expressed…I know it as mother-is-at-home. This bonding blossoms into tactile love through suckling while cradled in her arms, while making our first eye contact. Expressible love grows when first tasting food from the highchair of her kitchen. Kinderlife at its heart is about nurtured sanctuary.

The kitchen has always been a place to feel grounded in the moment. A child underfoot playing with pots and pans and wooden spoons, aromas wafting through the house hinting at the coming meal, canning and baking, snacking and klatching—all are riches of the kitchen. This was Mom’s ready-built romper room. All her children found it to be where they were happiest. Name brand toys didn’t have a chance against a ring of measuring spoons made into a tambourine, or a five quart kettle turned into a kettle drum. Infants are born percussionists.

Mom so delighted in feeding babies their very first taste of food—I believe I became a cooking instructor because of it. I would watch her slice some banana and serve it to her grandchildren. She would say, “Look, I’m giving Jesse his first taste of banana.” We would watch as those little puffy fingers would paw and pinch the soft texture. Slowly that hand would lead it up to his mouth, this newfound learning center…then taste. And the look… the look of him having his first taste of banana…it should be required viewing! 

I sense an infant’s earliest gazing is powered from beyond, still faintly charged from their heavenly travels. Having been here just a short time they are only beginning to focus on earthly matters. If you look earnestly into an infant’s gaze with good intention, you can almost see back into the heavens. They hold nothing back, they look you right in the eyes. I would back this up by noting that when babes first taste an earthly delight, they will without warning point off somewhere, not at you, or the lamp, or the refrigerator, somewhere with that solo index finger, and make a merry eruption. I sense they are pointing back to their origin for us to know and agree that this taste of banana was in fact heaven sent. For we who feed the child, this is our reward. 

As we begin to wean from mom and her table, this deep attachment abides—no matter where we go—she is at home for us. As a spirited kindergartner, you can be pedaling your bike exploring a new section of your neighborhood, or meeting new friends at a birthday party, or starting your first day at a new school. If you suddenly realize how far away and strange the moment is, you draw quickly from that reservoir, way down deep—mother is at home. She anchors our floundering ship at sea. 

Long after we begin our own life, mom’s comfort foods succor us, so that one of our favorite childhood foods served on a ruinous day can restore us once again. This brings to mind how her food was also powerful medicine. If we scraped a knee or cut a finger—we dropped whatever we were doing and wailed for mom. No one could console us, no surrogate mothering would make things better except the hands of mom. As a wounded child we instinctively knew the path back, marching or running as the crow flies to mother who is at home. In exchange for the injury we received comforting words, a trip to the medicine cabinet, a kiss on the booboo, the red tincture and searing pain of the disinfectant, the soothing balm of Vaseline, and the finale of the Bandaid. Didn’t a bandage put closure on that hurt, though? Finally, Mom wiped away the nearly dried tears with a warm wash cloth, our hair was combed… and then her final booboo fixer—COOKIES! 

I think most of our current weight-loss clinics are in the business of reducing the waistlines of those who return to the cookie jar and other calorie-filled nostrums and self-medicate with too much of mom’s food medicine. An adult’s psychic booboo, after all, can be just as painful. You don’t get the shiny new bandage, but you get the cookies, this time without mom controlling the count. 

My Favorite Lunch

Recently I was exploring a new tomato soup recipe with loads of garlic and a dollop of peanut butter, of all things! While it was simmering away, I peered into the crimson filled pot and was swept into the memory of Mom fixing me one of my all-time favorite lunches: tomato soup with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on soft, white bread. I retraced that comfortable ritual of dunking and lifting a sandwich tip from the soup, softly chewing, then letting those luscious flavors meld in my mouth.

I reminisced with my brother, Jimmy, about this once perfect lunch; he remembered a time when we had spent the morning carving out a snow castle, complete with roof, after the morning snowplow had passed. We carved out a sacred chamber. We forgot about the time of day. So unannounced, a thermos of tomato soup and a bag of P, B & J sandwiches were handed in, sight unseen, by our queen of the castle. We hurriedly doled out the lunch fixings and began to dunk and slurp and softly chew. We soon became transfixed with quietude—the colors…the fragrances…the sublime comfort. M-m-m-mother was in our castle!

So my simmering “Tomato-Peanut Butter Soup” awoke in me deep memories. I craved this comfort lunch of long ago. Low and behold! I couldn’t believe I had all the ingredients to fix her meal hidden among my health-food staples. There they were: whole wheat bread, almond butter, and raspberry jam. I fashioned an almond butter and jelly sandwich on soft whole wheat bread, sliced it on the diagonal, (for perfect dunking), and enjoyed the flavors and memories bursting forth after so many years. 

Mom has passed on, but that afternoon she was in my home. She fed me again, this time at my table. 

Mothers feed us perhaps, then, four times in our lives. 

 

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