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One of the cruelest tricks played on me in my finicky youth went down the first time I tried my grandmother's mushroom soup. This, along with her pierogi and golabki, was among her repertoire of second-generation Old World recipes that everyone else in the family craved like perpetually starved peasants but made me cringe with unwarranted revulsion. To my relief, it only made an annual appearance every Easter.
But the year I learned to appreciate mushrooms on their own (jarred Jolly Green Giants) I gave the dark brown brew clotted with thinly sliced fungi a tentative slurp. To my surprise and enduring horror Gram's soup was based on a lip-locking abundance of Frank's Kraut Juice.
Many Easters later, by the time I'd learned to embrace most things acidulated and all things Polish, Gram was long gone and so was any institutional memory of how to make the soup. The handful of online renditions I considered didn't seem to call for the requisite amount of sour power, and in any event, I was hornswaggled if I could find pure kraut juice for sale anywhere in Chicago—not a problem I'd encounter if I was still in Western PA.*
Eventually my dad's cleaning lady came through with a seemingly acceptable recipe, titled "Slovak Christmas Eve Mushroom Soup," that she'd gleaned from her sisters
-in-law. The time seemed nigh to attempt a re-creation of Gram's mushroom-sauerkraut soup and inflict it upon the good folk at the Hideout's Soup and Bread series. I placed an order for a 12-can case of kraut juice, but an early prototype of Barb Sambroak's recipe was still was too pungent for me to handle. Clearly her sisters -in-law are more hard-core than my grandmother was—they use a sausage grinder on the mushrooms for Piotr's sake.
Capitulating, I more or less equalized the ratio of beef stock to kraut juice. It's still pretty darn sour. If it's too much, plop in some sour cream.
3/4 lb. dried mushrooms
4 cans Frank's Kraut Juice (order online)
8 1/2 c. beef stock
2 large onions, roughly chopped
1/4 lb. bacon, diced
2 cups sauerkraut, chopped fine
1/4 c. Maggi seasoning sauce
1/4 c. flour (optional)
1/4 c. butter (optional)
Soak the mushrooms overnight in warm water. Drain, reserving some of the shroomy liquid. Rinse, then squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Coarsely chop.
Make a roux by melting the butter in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the flour and stir continuously until the mixture is smooth, the color is nutty brown, and the taste of raw flour is gone (be careful—it's ridiculously hot). Set aside to cool.
Saute the bacon in the bottom of your soup pot, rendering out as much fat as possible. Add the onions and cook slowly on low heat until they start to caramelize. Add mushrooms and stir for a few minutes until heated through. Repeat with the sauerkraut. Add the stock and kraut juice and simmer for an hour and a half. Add the Maggi, salt, and pepper to taste. If it's too sour add some mushroom broth.
If you like a thicker soup. Stir in some of the roux until it takes on the viscosity you prefer. Serve garnished with sour cream and dill.
Adapted from Barb Sambroak