Shaker Bean and Cider Stew
It's not that I'm down on snow. When I was growing up in Colorado, winter was my favorite season because of all the things we could do in it. Because in Colorado you can drive up to the mountains in the morning, past peaks that are actually perfectly pointed. Perfectly pointed mountain peaks. I miss those.
And you can cross-country ski by old log cabins in the late afternoon.
Or snowshoe through the woods, on similar late afternoons as the snow starts to turn blue in the twilight. For future reference, that's the time to start heading back, because the sun sets fast. And though both my sister and I know that most basic of outdoor rules, we ignored it on our last trip and ended up snowshoeing through the dark, taking wrong turns, and having to call the local Nordic center for directions out of the woods. I know I should be ashamed, but it was still fun.
Snow can be a wonderful thing. But I'm sitting in my New York apartment now, in the darkness of a Friday night that is too cold, which caps off a Friday day equally unbearable. The beautiful, cottony snow flurry we had last night has turned into the kind of brown and unbelievably slippery slush that makes walking both treacherous and just plain messy. It doesn't help that I live on the top of what must be the only steep hill in Manhattan. We're talking San Fransisco steep, and although building owners are supposed to be responsible for their sidewalks, the string of buildings lining the hill always seem to forget. Or not care.
You can probably guess that I'm about to say something like, 'on a day like this, only stew will do.' And not because it rhymes. Because it's true. Perfect for after days spent on the trails, or days spent braving the horrid city streets.
I originally started this post by gushing, 'You know what's even better than stock in soup? Cider. Delicious, delicious apple cider.' It makes me think of autumn, the sweetness and freshness of the air transferred to the broth. But because the cider is sweet, it's best to use a slightly hotter sausage in this stew, which comes from The Shaker Kitchen, a book that prides itself on a return to 'real food' and 'real' traditions. Written by Jeffrey Paige, himself not actually a shaker, he learned to live with these recipes while serving as the chef at The Creamery, the Canterbury Shaker Village's restaurant. If you're going to use dried beans, you'll have to start by soaking them the night before. But after that the stew is mostly left unattended to simmer away on the stove while you, in the face of a weekend plunged into the single digits, refuse to move from your couch. Even in Manhattan, a return to simple things.
Shaker Bean and Cider Stew
Adopted from Jeffrey S. Paige's The Shaker Kitchen
2 cups dried white beans, such as great northern or cranberry for example
3 cloves garlic, passed through a press
1 medium white onion
2 leeks, tough green leaves removed, white part washed and sliced
2 medium carrots, sliced into 1/4" coins
1 pound smoked sausage, also sliced into 1/4" coins
1 quart apple cider, plus more if needed
1 quart vegetable or chicken stock, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Pick through the beans, then put them in a bowl and cover with cold water. Allow them to soak overnight. When you're ready to make the soup, drain the beans and set aside.
Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. If you're using 'normal' sausage, you probably don't really need to add oil, but if you're using a leaner sausage like chicken or turkey, you can add a little oil to the pan. Brown the sausage for about 7-8 minutes, then remove to paper towels and drain.
Add the onions and leeks to the pot and cook in the rendered fat from the sausage. If the pot is dry, add some oil. Cook until the onions turn translucent, about five minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook for a couple more minutes, until the garlic is fragrant. Add the beans, the carrots, the cider, the stock and the herbs to the pot. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 2.5-3 hours until the beans are soft. If the liquid gets too low, add more cider or stock.
When the soup is ready and the beans are soft, season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.