A few months ago I embarked on a mission I’d been thinking about tackling for years: writing my family history. I’d always been curious about exactly where my ancestors were from, what they did for a living, and what they were like. Over the years I occasionally asked these questions, but would always eventually forget the answers and have to ask again. And again. So as a gift to all of my relatives, current and future, I finally decided to document our ancestors’ stories—a huge undertaking that’s been a surprising pleasure to work on. For one thing, researching a family history is like jumping into a pretty effective time machine. My grandparents, Leo and Fran, have been gone for almost 15 years. But this intense period of talking, reading, and writing about them has given me the eerie and wonderful sensation of actually hanging out with them again. Another pleasure has been some great phone conversations with my 95-year-old Aunt Hilda, who, with her remarkably flawless memory and quick wit, has been my primary source of family information.
For me, one of the strongest family bonding agents, as well as memory-inducers, is food. My memories of Leo and Fran are dominated by a buffet of brisket, pea soup, cherry tomatoes, almond butter, brownies, and Jarlsberg cheese. And whenever I visit my maternal grandmother, Ruth, I fantasize about the impending salt-encrusted baked potato for days in advance. The soft, hot potato, swimming in butter, is extraordinary—but it’s the association with my grandmother that gives it that extra dose of magic. That’s just how family foods work. So I thought it would be a fun idea to include a chapter of family recipes in the history—a collection of signature dishes that my grandmother, great-grandmother, aunts, and uncles were known for.
Aunt Hilda, who has been a strict vegetarian for over 70 years, gave me her famous carrot soup recipe to include in the collection. She originally used to make it with a Russet potato, but at some point along the way Grandma Fran started using a sweet potato in her own version, and the substitution stuck. Despite the simple list of ingredients—or maybe because of it—the result is sweet, rich, and flavorful. And the fresh ginger will perfume your whole kitchen while the soup is cooking. Thanks, Aunt Hilda!
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 medium onions, roughly chopped
- 1 pound carrots, roughly chopped
- 1 large sweet potato (about ¾ pound), roughly chopped
- 2 rounded teaspoons fresh minced ginger
- ½ kosher salt
- 4 cups water or broth
- 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
- heavy cream, for garnish
- green onions, chopped, for garnish
- In a stockpot, heat oil over medium-high heat. When oil is hot but not smoking, add onions.
- Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are soft and translucent (5 to 7 minutes).
- Add carrots, sweet potato, ginger, and salt, and stir for an additional 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add water or broth and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until vegetables are very soft (about 15 minutes).
- Using an immersion blender (or in batches in a countertop blender or food processor), purée the soup until smooth.
- Stir in butter or olive oil. Taste, and add additional salt if needed.
- Ladle soup into serving bowls and garnish with a swirl of heavy cream and a sprinkle of green onions.