For the past few weeks I’ve been slowly reading one of my mom’s favorite cookbooks, Bound to Please, by the Junior League of Boise. It’s an older book, from 1983, and unless you know me or are from Boise, you’ve probably never heard of it. In New York people don’t seem to even know about Junior Leagues—which are networks of women that organize different types of community development projects, with chapters stationed all over the world. Mom was a member around the time that I was in elementary school, which is the late eighties, and Bound to Please is one of the JLB projects that she worked on. (She also had a hand in the second cookbook they published, Beyond Burlap—a collection of potato recipes! This clever title makes me laugh every time I think of it.)
It seems Bound to Please was one of the first cookbooks that made Mom excited to cook. Her copy is has neat little notes next to the recipes she tried and checkmarks down the table of contents—it’s clear that at one point she wanted to cook through everything. I remember feeling the same way when I moved to New York and was living on my own, with unlimited access to a kitchen. I was about the same age as when she first got Bound to Please. I laid out my copy of The Dean & Deluca Cookbook on the kitchen counter, leaned over it with a pencil in hand, and cooked away like a pupil (though in reality I studied the book a lot more than I cooked from it—those are some expensive ingredients for a college student!). Imagining that Mom may have done the same thing with Bound to Please has made the book function as something of a portal to her lately, especially with Mother’s Day coming up, a difficult holiday since she died.
But as for the book: Remember, this is 1983. Cream cheese finds its way into every kind of dish. Pineapple is used to perplexing effect. Some of the sparse head notes are a little bizarre and retro (under Hot Crab Sandwiches the reader is given the tip that “Men love these sandwiches”). And oh, my lord, the Cream of [Fill in the Blank] Soups! Cans and cans and cans of them, usually to be used “undiluted.” Several recipes here simply can’t be read on a weak stomach. But, as I said, this was Idaho in 1983, and I was relieved to also find many delicious-sounding recipes wedged between the appalling ones. So this past weekend I invited a few friends over to sample a some Bound to Please selections.
This Leek Soup was one of the first recipes that jumped out at me, and I don’t think it’s one Mom ever tried: A generous amount of thinly sliced leeks, cooked down in butter with onion, celery, and a bay leaf, then covered with stock, finished off with a load of spinach, and pureed. The resulting soup is green—St. Patrick’s Day green—so why, I wondered, is it called Leek Soup, and not Spinach and Leek Soup, or Spinach Soup with Leeks? This is a question I can’t answer. There’s one more quirk in the recipe. The cook is recommended to finish each individual bowl of soup with a little wedge of Brie cheese. Have you ever done this? Was it a popular thing to do in the eighties? I added it to my bowl very cautiously, and then I quickly snapped the photo, prepared to fish it back out with a fork if I needed to. But to my surprise, the Brie does something special to this soup. It melts, adding a rich, just discernible layer among the vegetables. I’m a fan of robust vegetable purees—which is what this soup is, especially before you add a bit of heavy cream (you can certainly leave it out if you wish)—but with the Brie you’ve got a soup with sophistication. With sheen. Maybe with shoulder pads, taffeta, and a rhinestone-studded banana hair clip, but still: sheen.
And Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms!
Leek Soup (with Spinach and Brie)
Adapted from Bound to Please
3 tablespoons butter
4 large leeks, thoroughly cleaned and sliced thinly (about 5 cups total)
1 medium onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1-1/2 teaspoons fine-grain sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 cups vegetable stock
2 bunches fresh spinach, tough stems removed
1/2 cup heavy cream (the recipe recommends 1 cup, so add more if you’d like; optional)
Small wedges of brie cheese, rind removed if desired (optional)
1. Melt the butter in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. When foaming subsides, add the leeks, onion, celery, and bay leaf. Cook for about 15 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and translucent. Turn down the heat if they begin to brown. Add the parsley, thyme, salt, pepper, and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Fish out the bay leaf (you can do this after you add the spinach if you please, as I did, but I warn you this will be a Where’s Waldo-like task). Add the spinach—just pile it on top of the soup and press it down with the lid, then after a few minutes it should collapse enough that you can stir it into the soup—and cook for another 10 minutes. The vegetables should all be completely tender.
2. Remove from the heat and working in batches—it will require 4 or 5 batches—puree the soup in a blender until completely smooth. (Alternatively, you can use an immersion blender, but the soup will not be as smooth.) Return the soup to the wiped out pot or Dutch oven and reheat until warm. Stir in the cream and taste for balance of seasonings. Serve hot, with a slice of brie over each bowl.