2018-01-11 / From The Garden

Warm the Cockles of Their Hearts with Hearty Cock-a-Leekie

By Cynthia Gibson

Our trees and perennials are loving the ice and snow that covers their roots and beds, but humans are feeling the chill. The latest snowfall was pretty when falling, but the shovels and plows have been out in full force, and the single digit temperatures have kept many indoors. For those who are shoveling or plowing, I do hope a hot bowl of soup is waiting for you when the job is done. And for you cooks, given the glaring blanket of white that we see from our windows, it’s nice to have a warm glow inside our homes and smell something good on the stove.

This is the time to stock up on root vegetables, onions, potatoes, leeks, even winter tomatoes, garlic and fresh herbs. A great pot of a hearty vegetable, cream of carrot or cream of tomato soup really fits the bill. Leeks and potatoes make the best hot soup, especially for these frigid winter days and nights. Any homemade soup will taste good, so be sure to make a double batch. It will be gone in no time.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. A satisfying winter soup is Cocka Leekie, which is the national soup of Scotland. It is easy to make and is basically a chicken soup, featuring white chicken meat, barley and leeks in chicken broth. The origin of this traditional soup can be traced back to the 16th century. The original ingredients have shifted to different combinations over the years.

In 1598, Fynes Morrison wrote about the soup for the first time by saying that a soup made of boiling fowls and prunes was served at a knight’s house. In the 18th century, French statesman Charles Maurice de Talleyrand declared that prunes should be removed from the soup before serving. Later, the prunes were omitted all together in Cocka Leekie variations.

Cock-a-Leekie Soup

Serves 6-8

4 lb. whole chicken (with bones
and skin)
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
4 carrots, peeled and cut into
2 large parsnips peeled and cut
into rounds
6 stalks of celery, cut into large
2 bay leaves
1 lb. leeks, washed and finely
chopped. They hold onto grit,
soil and sand, so make sure they
are clean.
3 tsps. salt, divided
4 oz. dried prunes, pitted and
finely chopped (optional but
1 c. barley, cooked
½ tsp. black pepper, or to taste

Place 10 cups of water and the whole chicken, all the vegetables, the prunes and bay leaves, and half of the salt into a large stockpot. Cover and simmer for one hour. Remove the pot from the stove, carefully place the chicken onto a carving board and wait until it is room temperature. Do not discard the broth, for that is your soup. Pour the broth through a colander. Remove the vegetables, and chop into bite-sized pieces. Put them aside. Discard the bay leaves. Skim the fat off the top of the stock and put back into the stockpot. Once the chicken has cooled, shred it with your fingers, discarding all bones and skin. Do not chop the chicken with a knife, or cube it, as it will make the chicken tough. Place the shredded chicken into the stockpot, along with all the vegetables. Add the cooked barley. Add the remaining salt to taste. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes and your soup is finished.

Serve the soup piping hot and take the chill out of any wintry day!

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