I have long had a love affair with tomato soup. Saturday lunches of my childhood often found me parked in front of the television, Dick Clark and me sharing a cup of steaming tomato soup accompanied by a toasted (aka “grilled”) cheese sandwich.
Mom would set up my very own pale green with a flower motif metal folding TV tray before heading to the kitchen. While Mom opened the can of tomato soup using the Swing Away wall mounted can opener tucked inside the cellar way door, set about buttering two slices of bread, and peeled the cellophane wrapping off a slice of glow-in-the-dark orange processed cheese, I danced along with the top tunes on Bandstand. In my mind, I could “Twist”, do The Mashed Potato and The Swim with the best of them.
When lunch was ready, I was ravenous after my workout. i plopped down in the big over-stuffed chair normally reserved for my Pop and his reading of the daily newspaper, pulled my table close, tucked my feet in between the table’s gold folding legs and waited for the feast to arrive.
My mom had a way of making the everyday seem special. She always served my sandwich and soup on a milk glass oval platter that had an indentation in which a cup sat. The sandwich was cut corner to corner forming two golden crispy triangles. Three saltine crackers were fanned out around the edge of the cup that contained the steaming tomato soup.
Mom also customized her version of canned tomato soup by adding some milk rather than just water to the liquid she stirred into the condensed base. She would float a little pat of butter on the top when serving which would melt into the steaming liquid and add an additional creaminess.
I would meticulously tear bite-sized pieces from the toasted cheese sandwich and drop them onto the surface of the soup where they would float like islands, soaking up the tomato flavor. Once I had devoured the toasted cheese sandwich in this manner, in went the saltine crackers — crushed then dropped in to soak up the remaining soup in the bottom of the cup.
For as often as my mom made my favorite Saturday lunch for me, she never joined me. It turns out my mother had a love-hate relationship with condensed tomato soup. She liked it, but she had a “traumatic experience” in her younger years concerning it and the Campbell Soup Company.
While my dad was in the Army during World War II, my mother, recently graduated from business school, went to New Jersey to stay with her sister who was a registered nurse and lived in Camden. My mom got a job with RCA in the stenography pool. The Campbell Soup Company had a processing facility across the street from where Mom worked. My mom and her co-workers would often go outside for lunch. Many of the workers from Campbell’s did the same.
Mom said when the Campbell’s workers would come out, their white aprons would be covered in red splotches making it appear as if they just left a slaughterhouse rather than a soup canning facility. She said it was difficult to oust that vision from her mind after seeing it so much, and she could never pick up or open a can of condensed tomato soup without thinking of that!
My late husband James was a soup lover. I think he could eat it at every meal and he never tired of leftovers. I used to make large batches of soup to put in the freezer so he would have a handy meal. One day in the middle of a snowstorm in New Hampshire, I heard him in the pantry. He was moving cans around and mumbling to himself. I asked what he was looking for and he said he was really hungry for some tomato soup but he couldn’t find it. He swore he saw it earlier but no matter where he looked he could not put his hands on it now.
“You won’t find it”, I said. “I just used it for the batch of halupki I made the other day. There is no way you’re going to get out to the store now so you’re going to have to settle for something else.” As I looked around the pantry, my eyes fell on the large stash of tomato products I always kept on hand. Wondering if I could make some tomato soup for him, I decided it was inexpensive to experiment; if it worked, it worked and if it didn’t, he’d just have to find something else to eat.
After giving it some thought, I brought out the saucepan and various ingredients. After stirring and testing and tasting, this cream of tomato soup was the end result. As James ladled out a bowl, he remarked that the aroma was really enticing . I went on with my day, not paying all that much attention to James having his lunch. About an hour later, I returned to the kitchen and saw that a large portion of the soup was gone. “I guess you liked it”, I said. “What was the clue?” he asked, laughing. Then, turning serious, James said, “I don’t think I ever want condensed tomato soup from a can again.”
For well over a decade now this is the only cream of tomato soup I ever served from my kitchen in a cup or bowl. It was one of James’s favorite soups and still is one of mine. And yes, after all these years, I still float little pieces of toasted cheese sandwich on top and finish up the drops in the bottom of the cup soaked up by crushed saltines. And when I really need to feel the comfort of the presence of my mom, I serve them up on that very same milk glass snack set that I still have tucked away for safe-keeping in my china cabinet.
I have always used petite diced tomatoes in this recipe. I like the ratio of tomatoes to juice in that variety. My choice of bouillon is Better Than Bouillon brand, but I recommend using a paste-style base rather than a powdered style or bouillon cubes for best results.
When blending hot soup in a blender, work in batches to avoid burns and overfilling the container. This soup reheats well. When not serving this soup with toasted cheese sandwiches, i garnish it with a few sprigs of fresh basil and a sprinkling of garlic-cheese croutons.
Homemade Cream of Tomato SoupCourse: Soups, AppetizersCuisine: GeneralDifficulty: Easy
4 Tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup chopped onion
3 cups water
2 – 15 ounce cans petite diced tomatoes, with juice
1 1/2 teaspoons Better Than Bouillon chicken flavor
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon celery salt
Salt as desired
1 cup whole milk, light cream or half and half
- Melt butter in soup pan, sautee onions about 5 minutes until soft but not browned.
- Add flour and cook 1 minute.
- Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients except the milk.
- Return to heat, bring to boil, cook 5 minutes.
- Working in batches, place tomato mixture and milk in blender and blend until smooth.