Monday, November 12, 2007

Serious soup and crackers

During my recent visit to Plimoth Plantation, I got four soup mixes and a piece of maple candy.

I shall say no more of the maple candy. Rest assured that its end was quick and humane. Well... quick.

The four soup mixes were: Farmhouse Chowder, Bean Pottage (Heritage Bean Soup), Pumpkin Chowder, and Pottage of Indian Corn (not on Nantucket Pantry's website). You'll notice that the website lists a bunch of other soups, some of which I would have grabbed in a heartbeat if they'd been available (e.g. black bean); or else I saw them but skipped them because I didn't think they'd be any good (e.g. pease porridge).

In fact, I didn't have much hope that any of these would be any good. My experience with dry soup mixes (even the "gourmet" ones) has been mostly negative. The seasoning packet is too puny, or it's mostly onion salt and MSG. or the grains have been partially pre-cooked and have no character left after being reconstituted.

So far, however, I've been impressed with these. The Farmhouse Chowder's seasoning was just about perfect, except for being a little too sweet. I didn't need to add anything, although I did use all chicken broth instead of a half broth/half water mixture as the instructions suggested. I also threw in some lean sausage at the end because I thought it needed some meat. The texture was very nice - naturally thick, not watery or gummy as many mixes are. I added a little bit of milk to make it more "chowderish," but it really wasn't necessary.

The Bean Pottage had regular whole beans, not those semi-precooked things, and they really needed cleaning - I found a few pebbles and twigs. Unfortunately, it included some cranberry beans (not to be confused with cranberries), which, um... well let's just say their inclusion was unfortunate. (Like anasazi beans and pinto beans, they're very tasty, but they're problematic.) I used 8 cups of beef broth and 2 cups of water (in contrast to their recommended 10 cups of broth) and a small ham hock. I added a box of spinach at the end for nutrition, but again, like the Farmhouse Chowder, the flavor and texture were nearly perfect. There was a little too much rosemary and once again I could taste sugar, which I didn't think was necessary.

I haven't had the others yet. I'm saving the corn pottage for a stormy winter day. I'm not sure when I'm going to have the pumpkin chowder.

I'm also going to put in a plug for two serious crackers I discovered recently due to a brief oyster cracker shortage: Nabisco's Uneeda Biscuit and Nabisco's Crown Pilot chowder crackers. Both crackers are large and sturdy. The Crown Pilot is, apparently, a New England favorite, especially further north; I'd never heard of it before. At some point Nabisco discontinued it and told people to use the Uneedas instead, but that didn't go over well, so they brought the Crown Pilot back.

(While Crown Pilot seems to have quite a following, as evidenced by the quality of the Google hits I got for it, the Uneeda is not as beloved, despite going all the way back to 1899. Even Kraft's links seem to be broken.)

Although I couldn't choose a favorite based on flavor alone - they're virtually identical, except only the Uneeda contains a small amount of yeast, and only the Crown Pilot contains a small amount of molasses - the Crown Pilot wins hands-down based on its much lower price (about $3.79 for a 14 oz. box, compared to Uneeda's $2.99 for a 3.5 oz. box) and its packaging. The Uneeda comes in tray within a plastic sleeve; because of the tray, you can't roll down the sleeve for freshness. The Crown Pilots come in three pouches of eight crackers each, and you can easily put the pouch in a ziplock bag once you've opened it.

The artwork on the Uneeda box is much cooler, though; it's easier to find articles about the artwork than the cracker itself.

5 comments:

Dr. Momentum said...

I love crackers. I don't know why I don't eat soup and crackers more often.

Thanks for the review.

laura.cooksey said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I can't get Crown Pilot locally, but the Vermont Country store sells them. www.vermontcountrystore.com

Julie said...

One thing I neglected to mention about the crackers that might be significant: what they're like. Duh!

They taste like Saltines minus the salt. In other words, neither has any extra salt. You figure you're gonna stick 'em into soup or some recipe (like meatloaf) anyway, which is probably already adequately salted.

They're both pretty sturdy, dense, and heavy, though not as much so as I would like. The Uneedas are a little bit denser, I think.

And like any serious cracker, if you eat them dry, both will suck all the moisture out of your mouth and scrub your palate. No matter what you ate before (note: I haven't tried this with strong garlic), they will go a long way to getting rid of the taste. Handy if you just brushed your teeth and don't want your orange juice to taste minty.

Maggie said...

Whenever we go to Sturbridge, I always get maple candy. It's one of my favorite fall treats!!

Julie said...

Maple candy is the one thing that tempts me more than chocolate. I actually held out two days before I opened the box.

"I'll just nibble this one little corner off. Oh - I forgot to do that slowly; I didn't get a chance to savor it. I'll just take off that other little piece. Just one, and then I'll put it away. Wait. Did I just take a bite and not even realize it? Spooky. I'll take another bite and see if it feels familiar and then I can remember whether I really took that second bite or not. Oh, damn, that's good. Hey, that looks a little crooked. I should even that up. Well, now it's lopsided... can't have that. There, now it's fixed... huh... that last piece is too small to be worth wrapping up - might as well eat it."