Monday, April 28, 2008

T is for a Tomato Soup Memory

This is my brother and I, circa 1975. We are standing in front of my Aunt and Uncle's pale blue Volkswagen Camper Van. It is probably mid-summer which is why we are wearing the essential English holiday attire of a thick arran sweater, shorts and wellington boots. In the background my Aunt is stirring a tin of tomato soup over the VW gas stove. Everyone should have a tomato soup memory. My aunt and uncle were responsible for providing me with a whole album full. I would visit them during the school holidays. Maybe children remember things in a different way to adults but I can recall the smell of my aunt's house; a combination of cooking gas and Imperial Leather soap. They had exciting things that we didn't have at home. Things like an Edwardian Pianola, variety packs of breakfast cereals but best of all, the VW Camper Van. When I wasn’t clinging onto the sides of the piano stool, frantically pedaling my way through “The Toreador”, my Aunt and Uncle would drive us round Britain sightseeing in this van. And wherever we were, the routine was the same. I loved the fact that it was the same every time.

Inside the van there were secret shelves and drawers. The formica top in front of my seat would lift up to reveal a little chrome sink with a tap that you pumped up and down to make the water flow. Even more exciting was the Calor Gas Stove. Wherever we were, my Aunt would unpack marmite sandwiches and heat up a tin of tomato soup. We would park in country lanes, on hard shoulders and at stately homes. One day my Aunt drove us into the centre of London to visit the Science Museum. The camper van was parked up right in front of the museum in Exhibition Road. The little gas stove was ignired, the obligatory tin of tomato soup opened. We sat in a row, my brother, my Aunt and me, the slide doors of the van wide open as all the tourists filed past into the museum.

I have passed on this love of creamy tomato soup to my own children. I don’t yet have a camper van but on holiday in Cornwall I bought a small gas camping stove. I bought the tomatoes from an honesty box with a difference. On the front door of a house in Lostwithiel, someone had pinned bags of vegetables grown in their garden with an instruction to put the money through the letter box. I brought the tomatoes home and made my own creamy tomato soup. To make it really smooth, I pushed the soup through a sieve, smoothing the tomatoes and potatoes through the metal mesh with a wooden spoon. And late that evening we all walked up to the top of a hill by the cottage where there is beautiful view of Lantic Bay. We lit up the gas stove and heated up the tomato soup which we sipped from mugs, looking out over the sea as the sun went down. One of many tomato soup memories that I hope my children will have forever.
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Creamy Tomato Soup

900g ripe tomatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp of tomato paste
1 medium sized potato, peeled
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 small onion, sliced
1 teaspoon of caster sugar
1 teaspoon of ground paprika
725 ml of chicken or vegetable stock
200ml single cream or half-fat cream
Salt and pepper to season

Boil a large pan of water. Add the whole tomatoes. Turn off the heat and allow to sit for a few minutes. The skins of the tomatoes will split. Drain them and peel off the skins. Chop the skinned tomatoes. Heat the olive oil in a large pan on a medium-low heat. Peel and finely dice the potato. Add the finely chopped onion, potato and crushed garlic and sauté for 3 minutes until the onion and potato is softened. Don’t allow it to burn. Add the ground paprika, tomatoes, tomato purée, caster sugar and stock. Bring to the boil, stirring well. Then lower the heat and allow to simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and using a wooden spoon, smooth the soup through a sieve. If you prefer, puree in a food processor. Return to the pan and add the cream, stirring over a low heat. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
Do you have a tomato soup memory?
What is your favourite way to enjoy tomatoes....


  1. My tomato soup memory is - as a newly-wed seeking to impress with my cooking skills - of spending a sizeable portion of the morning making tomato soup, and everyone assuming I had opened a tin of Heinz ;) So that's what I've done ever since :)

    Perhaps this soup has a slightly different take ...


  2. Joanna
    I know - you cant beat a tin of tomato soup. Well you can - but people always love the taste of Campbells or Heinz....
    I just thought I wanted to try and make something that had come from fresh tomatoes and was still creamy....
    Freddie would have been happy with either I think - He gave this 8 out of 10. The tinned version would have been given 10 out of 10 I suspect!!

  3. If you ever get a camper I would suggest not parking it in front of the Science Museum nowadays :-)

  4. Dave
    I know. But I am tempted...Are you even allowed to park there anymore? Probably not.
    In 1975 so many more things were possible....

  5. That van sounds like it was a little treasure trove.

  6. Definitely not! As a kid I wouldn't eat the "colour soups" i.e. no oxtail or tomato for me, I'd only eat the beige ones (asparagus, vegetable, chicken). Still don't like tomato soup although I will throw a tin of tomatoes into a vegetable soup every once in a while.

    My favourite ways to eat tomatoes are (a) really fresh tomatoes with mozarella and basil (or feta) and (b) tomato tart. Make some shortcrust pastry and roll out into a not-very-deep dish. Spread some mustard on the pastry (I like using a wholegrain mustard that's quite mild). Sprinkle a thin layer of grated cheese on top of that. Then arrange loads ofslices of de-seeded tomatoes on top of that. The cheese seeps up through the tomato slices and it looks lovely. For a particularly lavish version add a couple of slices of mozarella on top. Add plenty of dried oregano and basil, some pepper and salt if you like (I don't find it necessary but my sister always adds it). Cover and bake for about twenty minutes (at around 180 degrees), remove cover and bake another 5 or 10 minutes. Delicious hot and also yummy cold (although there's rarely enough leftovers to realise that!).

  7. I don't have good tomato soup memories :( But tomatoes is the fruit we eat the most in our house now. I will have to choose my favorite one to send it to you :-p


  8. Cynthia it was. I remember all the nooks and crannies. There were board games, packs of cards, napkins, sticking plasters, blankets and cushions. I loved it

    Moonwaves - Love the sound of your tart. Will print this off asap.

    Ben - Please do. If there is a simple one even better because I have to work away from home part of this week and wont be able to do much complicated cooking.

  9. Anonymous8:34 PM

    I don't really have any clear tomato soup recipes from my childhood but I'll bet my sons do: Once in a while, when I hadn't homemade soup on hand, I'd heat up a tin of Campbell's tomato soup and they absolutely loved it served with peanut butter on whole wheat toast! JD from Canada

  10. JD
    It seems the joys of tomato soup are universal!

  11. Tomato soup was always the tinned variety and associated with recovering from childhood illnesses like measels!

    I do have another tomato memory 'Baked tomatoes with cheese on toast'. This was waiting for me when I came home from school (a long bus journey) hot and juicy with molten cheese spooned over a thick slice of toast.
    Slice large tomatoes in half and put in an oven proof dish cut side up. Place slices of mature cheddar cheese over the top and put in the oven until the tomatoes are soft and the cheese bubbling and crispy round the edges. Spoon over a thick slice of toast, add black pepper and basil leaves for a deluxe version. Perfect comfort food :)


  12. Tomatoes are delicious and I like to just eat the little ones as snacks like grapes. However, when I was 12 I had a party where we were served a sizable cherry tomato that was hollowed out with chicken salad inside of it. I thought that it was basically the coolest thing ever. If you can get smaller tomatoes they are absolutely great for stuffing with things. You can bake them if you like but I enjoy them as finger food the most.

  13. Anonymous5:29 PM

    I spent a chunk of my childhood confined to the sofa as a result of serious illness and I associate the taste of soup with that - so only fresh, chunky soup will do for me and I don't eat it often.

    I do eat pasta though... Slice a red onion and two gloves of garlic as finely as you can without cutting your fingernails and cook both gently in 1-2tbsp olive oil until the onion is soft and translucent (but not brown). While the onion is cooking, take a large punnet of cherry tomatoes and slice the tomatoes in two - or quarters if they're quite large. Slice a courgette quite finely. When the onions/garlic are soft, add the tomatoes and courgette to the pan, season with sea salt and black pepper, and cook gently until the tomatoes are just going soft. Stir in some torn basil leaves and eat with linguine.


  14. Sandra1:27 PM

    I had a very similar holiday childhood - north of the Border. The wellies were essential, as were the tins of tomato soup, which was compulsory along with cheese sandwiches, or cheesy pieces as we called them! :-)

  15. What a wonderful story! Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

  16. Anonymous2:34 PM

    We had the VW Caravanette complete with gas stove although I don't remember any sink. Ours was plain white - not the more common orange and white two tone paint job. We never used the stove to my recollection but we had many a splendid day out and picnicked round the table to escape the rain because of course English summer days out are always blighted by rain and no-one even had to get out of the van to reach the food. My 3 siblings and I used to spend the entire day before setting off on our family summer holiday to Wales packing the van, filling every little nook and cranny with everything you could possibly need on a 2 week caravan holiday, including as much food as we could stow.


  17. That was a great story! I love the tomatoes pinned onto the door! My memory of tomato soup is of my mum warming up Heinz tomato soup for me whenever I was ill. I still crave it when I am poorly.

  18. My own memory is of "Games" being the last lesson of the day at my old primary school, during some God-forsaken freezing cold month, and us having to play football for what seemed like hours, before trudging home, caked in mud and grime from head to foot.

    I'd come through that door a boy of some 11 years old, covered in hoar-frost, and the smell that would greet me was that beautiful aroma of warming Heinz Tomato soup and toasting bread.

    Sat down in front of a roaring gas fire (all four bars going), I would consume my soup and toast, and realise everything was alright after all. ;-)

    The Imperial Leather soap also prompted a memory of my Grandmother's house, which smelt of that particular soap too. Ah, happy days... how I wish I could be back there among them, innocent and without a real care or problem in the World...


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