It is a perfect tomato soup sorta day. What kind of day is that? Anytime your mind wanders to a period in your life when a happy memory is paired with a bowl of tomato soup. It may be a can of Campbell's soup or a made-from-scratch variety.
For me, it is not the tomato soup made with water that was served in my junior high school cafeteria. It is my mother's soup that she made from canned tomatoes grown in her garden and milk fresh from our cows. It is also the chunky, creamy tomato soup served only on Fridays at Westside Cafe in Brainerd (Minnesota). Dick and I would call ahead and reserve two bowls if we thought the soup might be gone before we arrived. We'd always order a grilled cheese to go along. The cafe has been closed for several years and, sadly, I neglected to ask my mother how she made hers before she died. Thus began my search for a recipe to replicate the tomato soup embedded in my memory. I have tried many recipes in my persistent quest. This recipe is it! Source: Epicurious Magazine September 1996 reprinted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook by Marion Cunningham.
The recipe, which uses canned diced tomatoes, states to pour the soup through a strainer before serving to remove the tomato chunks. Why?! That's just a waste of good tomatoes. The first photo shows the soup with tomato chunks. It was good, but not quite there. The second photo below shows a version that I made by blending half of it then added it back into the chunky portion. The result was exactly like what I remember at Westside Cafe! Whether you choose the chunky version or the pureed/chunky combo, you will never open a can of Campbell's tomato soup again. I am sure of it.
Homemade Cream of Tomato Soup
Makes 12 cups (8 - 1 ½ cup servings).
5 tbsp butter (I used 2 tbsp.)
½ cup chopped onion
4 tbsp flour (I used 2 tbsp because pureeing it in a blender thickens it.)
4 cups milk (I used whole milk.)
½ bay leaf (I used 1 whole bay leaf.)
1 ½ tsp sugar
1 ½ tsp salt (I used 2 tsp sea salt + 1 ¼ tsp garlic pepper.)
1 tbsp Better Than Chicken Bouillon (my addition)
½ tsp baking soda* (I used 1 tsp because I doubled the amount of tomatoes.)
3 6 cups fresh or canned tomatoes (I used 2 – 28 oz cans diced tomatoes plus the juice.)
Melt the butter in a soup pot. Add the onion and cook until the onion is soft and translucent but not browned. Sprinkle the flour over the butter mixture and continue to stir and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. (Because I reduced the butter, the flour will burn if you cook it that long. I just mix the flour into the butter and call it good.) While stirring, slowly pour in the milk. Add the bay leaf, sugar, and salt and continue to cook and stir until slightly thickened. (You’ll only see a slight thickening action because I reduced the amount of flour, so I heated it only hot enough for serving. Do not simmer or boil.) Stir the baking soda into the tomatoes. It will fizz. Add the tomatoes to the milk and bring it back up to serving temperature. Remove from heat and put through a strainer. (I say, "Why strain it? And toss out the tomato chunks? Why?!" Option: For a smooth/chunky combo, allow to cool then puree half of the soup adding it back into the remaining chunky soup in the pot. If you want a smooth consistency without chunks, puree entire mixture, including tomato chunks, in a blender. For average blender container sizes, you'll need to do this in stages.) *Adding baking soda to tomatoes neutralizes their acidity to keep the milk from curdling.