My eight years in New Haven, Connecticut—four as an undergraduate and another four as a newspaper reporter—ended in a hail of bullets and a falling body. The former redecorated my apartment lobby, the latter plummeted past my eighth-floor balcony at 3 a.m. New Haven, at least during the early '90s, was that kind of town.
I don't miss the sirens, the dirty snow or the fake gothic. I do miss Mory's, the legendary dining club situated in a clapboarded, warren-roomed manse incongruously tucked between two epitomes of the modern mindset: the Yale graduate school and a rock club called Toad's Place.
Mory's is to New Haven what Antoine's is to New Orleans—a redoubt of bygone sensibility. You go there to eat, but even more to ponder the fork- and knife-carved words in the old wood and to pretend that it's 1912, the year Mory's opened at its present location.
As you order pommes de terre souffles and bread pudding at Antoine's, so you order—unwaveringly and ritually—the Baker Soup and Welsh rarebit at Mory's. The Mediterranean dieter who orders the seafood risotto for $27 misapprehends everything.
What is this "Baker Soup"? Nobody knows. Superficially, it's a curry-flavored cream soup of vaguely ochre hue. The operative ingredients seem to be carrot, celery, onion and tomato, though this is a controversial speculation.
A year ago, feeling oddly homesick for the film noir dankness of New Haven and remembering the life-infusing counter-dynamic of the Baker Soup, I set myself the task of engineering a recipe based on 20-year-old memories.
I devised a pumpkin-apple soup to which I added a splash of Calvados in homage to my Francophile hero A.J. Liebling. Though luscious, my soup was not the soup. The color was right, but there was too much richness, sweetness and complexity. And my 2-horsepower Vitamix produced a super-silky potage that was over-beholden to technology. Baker Soup, in my recollection, is homier and earthier: a peasant rather than a Parisian soup.
I put the question to a Yale listserv. There was an animated response: philosophies unfurled, chemistries clashed, recipes flew. There was a certain amount of nonsense, but one Baker Soup devotee claimed to have a friend who had cooked at Mory's back in the day and had divulged the outline.
This devotee wrote: "It's a cream of tomato and curry soup, starting with fresh tomatoes and chicken stock and thickened with bread. The secret ingredient is carrot. The current Mory's incarnation uses a little too much carrot, a little too much garlic, not enough curry powder. And it's too smooth. The result is a slightly more elegant, but somehow less satisfying dish."
Aided by these hints, I conjured a plausible facsimile. Here, then, are two recipes—mine and his—both warming, one classic.
Mory's Baker Soup (serves 4)
2 medium beefsteak tomatoes (575 grams)
3–4 large carrots (400 grams)
1/2 large yellow onion (200 grams), preferably Vidalia
2–3 medium stalks celery (150 grams)
3 cloves garlic
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup dry vermouth
1 Tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp. ground ginger
4 cups unsalted chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs (roughly food-processed French baguette)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. kosher salt (or to taste)
Parboil the tomatoes (to release the skins), 1 minute. Peel, seed and dice the cooled tomatoes. Dice the carrots, onion and celery. Finely mince the garlic. Melt the butter in a stock pot. Add the carrots, onion and celery. Sweat until softened, 15 minutes. Add the vermouth and reduce by half. Add the garlic, curry powder and ground ginger, stirring to combine. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock and bay leaf. Simmer at medium-low temperature for 20 minutes. Add the breadcrumbs and continue to simmer, 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and roughly puree (be sure to retain some texture). Return the soup to the pot. Finish with the cream and salt (in quarter-teaspoon increments, tasting as you add). Garnish with parsley, chives or croutons.
"Curry powders" differ enormously. To avoid winding up with an excessively exotic or assertive soup, I recommend a mundane supermarket brand like McCormick.
The quality of your soup will depend on the quality of your stock. Do not be tempted by salted and MSG-laden stocks. A deep-souled homemade stock is ideal.
Pumpkin-Apple Soup with Curry and Calvados (serves 4)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 large yellow onion (200 grams), preferably Vidalia, sliced
1 Golden Delicious apple, sliced
1 15 oz.-can pumpkin puree
3 cups unsalted chicken stock
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp. curry powder (or to taste)
2 tsp. Calvados
1 tsp. kosher salt (or to taste)
In a stock pot, melt the butter until it begins to brown. Add the onion and sauté until softened and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the apple and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the pumpkin, stock and milk. Simmer at medium temperature for 15 minutes. Transfer to a blender—preferably a Vitamix—and process to a silky, airy puree. Return the soup to the pot. Finish with the cream, curry powder, Calvados and salt (in quarter-teaspoon increments, tasting as you add). The soup should be thick but not inert; it should run, but just barely. Adjust the consistency by adding additional stock. A full tablespoon of curry powder produces a modest piquancy; for a milder soup reduce to 2 tsp.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Soup days at Mory's"