There are certain recipes that are about more than food. They’re scribbled on note cards or written in cookbooks splattered with grease and cake batter. Adjustments and variations have been carefully and thoughtfully squeezed into the margins. They’re the recipes passed between families – from generation to generation, from mother to daughter.
This is one of those recipes – but it’s one that I dare not edit. There’s no tweaking, no adjusting, no making this one my own. It just wouldn’t be the same if I did.
To be honest, I’ve been avoiding sharing this recipe because it’s so near and dear to my heart. Its sounds silly, doesn’t it? It’s just a recipe. But this one more than any others in my repertoire reminds me of my mom.
It wasn’t fall until Mom made Autumn Chowder. It’s as though the leaves changing signaled it was time to start frying bacon, sauteing onions and chopping carrots. This wasn’t a special occasion dish – just one of Mom’s many great weeknight meals.
Since she passed away about a year ago, I’ve gone through many of the “firsts” – first Mother’s Day, birthdays, my parents’ anniversary, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Much to my surprise, the “First Making of Autumn Chowder” was nearly as emotional as any holiday.
This is just one of those recipes. I can’t even explain it – but maybe you know what I mean. Making this without her isn’t really the same. I’ve made this as an adult plenty of times, but I always knew I could call and say, “Hey Mom, guess what I made today? Autumn Chowder!” Or I’d have to call to ask why the cheese wasn’t melting properly or how long it’d take for the potatoes to soften.
Her absence hits me most when I’m cooking. But please don’t misunderstand; I’m not complaining. I’m simply attempting to express what this dish means to me. It symbolizes my family coming together around the dinner table on a crisp fall or winter night. I can see my mom standing over that massive soup pot making a double batch of this decadent soup, ready to feed the family and any guests we had over the house.
When I made Autumn Chowder for the first time this year, I used that big soup pot – the one she always used while I was growing up. Even though it’s only my husband and me in our house, that huge pot reminds me to make a double batch, to have family and friends over, to bring some to the neighbors, to practice hospitality – just like Mom did.
Although autumn has ended and winter is in full swing, this chowder remains a staple in my home during any cold-weather month (and in Chicago we have a lot of those). It’s a recipe that will remain unchanged as I pass it along to my children, hoping that in a small way they’ll know a bit about the wonderful mother who passed it along to me.
Yields approximately 8 servings
1 lb. bacon
1 large onion
2 1/2 lbs potatoes
1 lb carrots
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 cup water
2 cans whole kernel corn (drained)
4 cups milk
12 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup flour
1. Dice the bacon, onion, potatoes and carrots.
2. In a large pot or Dutch oven, fry the bacon pieces until they’re almost cooked through. Drain off some of the fat. Add the diced onion and cook until the onions are tender and bacon is crisp.
3. Stir in the bouillon cubes, water, potatoes, carrots and corn to the pot. Cover and cook until the vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally.
4. While the vegetables are cooking, in a medium bowl mix the cheese and flour so that the cheese is evenly coated. Set aside.
5. Turn heat on the chowder to low and slowly add the milk. Stir consistently until the milk is heated through (do not boil!).
6. Slowly add the cheese/flour mixture. Stir until the cheese is fully incorporated and the chowder is heated through. Serve and enjoy!