My first instinct when someone gets sick is to feed them. I suspect it stems from some primal urge to nourish them back to health. Or perhaps it’s a deep-seated insecurity that I can’t offer anything else other than that which gives me great comfort–food. At any rate, when someone is sick, they usually appreciate the gift of a sustaining meal, irrespective of the neurotic motivations of the giver.
Recently, I had both my mother and mother-in-law feeling under the weather. Of course I went into cooking overdrive. And what more comforting food than soup (apart from Vegemite on toast of course)?
So while my beloved heads out for a bit of late night pumpkin shopping, I make a stock from chicken frames, celery, onions, carrots, thyme, peppercorns and a bay leaf. The smoky flavour of stock made from bacon bones works better with pumpkin soup, but there were no such bones to be found in our freezer, so chicken it had to be. Many people are put off making their own stock because it's time-consuming. With all this comfort cooking I've been doing of late, I've realised all it takes is a few minutes to get it going and then it happily bubbles away by itself. I am going so far as to add 'Big Stock Pot' to my Christmas wish list this year.
Soon eight kilos of pumpkin materialise on the kitchen bench. I spend the next 20 minutes de-seeding it, divesting it of its tough skin and chopping it. No great suggestions here on how to make this task easier, except to say don't be tempted to daydream, and watch that the knife doesn't slip.
The kitchen smells oh-so-comforting and the windows have misted over. After the stock has been cooking about an hour (it could do with a bit more but it's getting late) I strain it through a muslin cloth into three pots. I then divvy up the pumpkin, some potatoes, a clove of garlic and an onion. The stock should just cover the ingredients. I let the whole concoction boil until the pumpkin is soft. The next morning, I puree the lot in batches and pour into three casserole dishes; one for my mother-in-law, one for my mother, and one for our family. Everyone is delighted with their soothing pumpkin soup, and I feel good that I've catered for at least a few meals for us all.
'Cook. Feed. Heal.' How does that sounds as a winter motto?