One cold and rainy afternoon, Lucy and I were on the hunt for a hot lunch to warm us up. For our bellies, there is no lunch more comforting than the classic tomato soup. Cruising the grocery store aisles for fresh supplies, I was dismayed to find our favorite box variety no longer on sale. And at $5.00 per box (roughly $1 per serving), I pushed my cart away in a huff. Damn organic hippie food companies, charging an arm and a leg for soup, I mused. It’s soup! Peasant food! Who do they think they are?
Then, like a beacon at the end of the aisle, the shiny aluminum cans with red wrappers and pop-tops beckoned me. I’ll just buy a few cans until the good stuff goes back on sale, I thought. We’d go home, stir in a little milk, warm our tummies, and no one would ever know the difference between a $0.99 can and a $5.00 box. But upon perusing the ingredients list, I hesitated: high fructose corn syrup. I don’t even know quite what that is. But I know that it doesn’t belong in tomato soup. Nor does flour, oil, ascorbic acid (is Campbell’s trying to prevent scurvy in the youth of America?), and preservatives like citric acid.
Now if you’ve ever met me, or read this blog for even the shortest of moments, you know that I am not a health Nazi. I make things like buffalo chicken mac n cheese and New York cheesecake without the slightest hesitation. But the thing about those dishes is, I know and can pronounce everything that is in them. When you take a thing like tomato soup which should be fairly basic (tomatoes, water or milk, spices) and start lacing it with chemicals, that’s where I draw the line. That’s why I decided at that moment on aisle 7 that I would replicate the canned variety (which is, by the way, delicious, if chemical-laden), flavor for flavor, but without all the junk.
It took a few tries. A few marred batches. And a lot of taste tests. But when I was done I was left with a steaming pot of homemade tomato soup that tasted better than the original. Much, much better. And, might I add, better than the $5.00 box. You could actually taste the tomatoes, the creaminess of the milk, the hint of salt. When I tasted the two soups back to back I could hardly put my finger on any of the flavors in the canned variety—they all blended together in one sort of sweet, sort of salty, sort of bland taste.
Ironically my journey to this soup began on the canned aisle as well, as I used canned tomato paste and tomato sauce as my base. Fortunately, the ingredients in tomato paste are tomatoes and water, and tomato sauce is the same plus a few spices. A couple of varieties of tomato sauce surprised me with their ingredients as well, but the plain store brand was simply made and worked well in this recipe. You could use fresh tomatoes, but you won’t get quite the same flavor. We are replicating canned tomato soup, after all.
This was our lunch for three days following my final successful experiment. It kept well in the refrigerator, but when reheating I would use the stove and not the microwave because of the milk in the soup. Microwaves tend to overheat food quickly, and when dairy is involved no good can come of it.
I’m also going to pat myself on the back since my (quite delicious) soup worked out to cost roughly $0.63 per serving, while the Campbell’s rang it at about $0.78 per serving.
Does anyone else find it ironic that I took the time to make this soup from scratch with simple ingredients, and then dotted it with Goldfish crackers? I guess that’s just me. Heck, maybe next I’ll try to make Goldfish crackers without all the junk. But for now I have this soup. And my daughter and I will eat it on a rainy day in the kitchen, warm our tummies, and laugh at those crazy soup companies.
Homemade Creamy Tomato Soup
The type of milk you use will determine the creaminess of the soup (whole=very creamy, nonfat=not very creamy). When you’re shopping for the tomato sauce and paste, make sure you select varieties with the simplest ingredients possible. The soup will keep for up to 4 days in the refrigerator and freezes well. Yield: approximately 5 cups, or 4-5 one cup servings.
- 1 15-oz can tomato sauce
- 1 6-oz can tomato paste
- 1 cup water
- 2 cups milk
- 1/2 tsp garlic salt
- 2 1/2 tbsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt plus more to taste
Stir together the first 6 ingredients in a pot over medium heat. Add the salt, taste, and adjust the salt and spices as needed. Bring just to a simmer (or just to your desired serving temperature) and remove from heat. Slurp and enjoy.