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Franklin County Cooks: Buckland Public Library’s event brings together community of soup, book lovers

  • People gather at the Buckland Public Library for a recent soup night in Buckland. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Jaye Selleck pours a bowl of soup during the winter soup night series at the Buckland Public Library. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Sam Bartlet pours a cup of potato leek soup during the winter soup night series at the Buckland Public Library. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Librarian Liz Jacobson-Carol, left, talks with authors Eric Laursen and Mary Dearborn during the winter soup night series at the Buckland Public Library. Be sure to catch the next one, and last for the season, on Tuesday, Feb. 20, at 5:30 p.m. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Ursula Lenaerts, 8, left, talks with Rosey Young, 14, over bowls of soup during the winter soup night series. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Ursula Lenaerts, 8, enjoys a bowl of soup during the winter soup night series at the Buckland Public Library. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Two of the soup offerings at a recent soup night at the Buckland Public Library. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Patricia Donohue blows out the candles on a cake celebrating her birthday during a recent soup night at the Buckland Public Library. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • WEISBLAT


Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Five years ago, Ann Bodkhe, then a trustee of the Buckland Public Library, had an idea. She suggested that the library serve soup to patrons one winter evening.

“I recall the letdown after the holidays, and those dreary winter months of January through March, when all you want to do is hibernate. I thought it might be fun to get people together, even if they were just stopping by for their books,” Bodkhe told me.

“Initially, we asked folks to bring a bowl. We provided the soup, and I made homemade bread. Soon, we added some bowls and utensils from the dollar store so folks wouldn’t be put off with not bringing their own place setting.”

Bodkhe has always loved reading. “I think libraries are magical places, and to this day, if I have a book in my hands, I feel rich,” she said. Adding that, as a child, she spent a lot of time at her local library.

“In those days, libraries were for reading and research,” she noted. “You had to be quiet. Now, we offer so much more. Here in Buckland, I like to think that the library is a little community, and soup night was just a natural extension of that.”

Bodkhe estimated that about 10 people came to the first soup night. The trustees decided to make it a regular winter event. When Bodkhe retired from spearheading soup nights, fellow Buckland resident Alan Young took over as soup coordinator, although he prefers the moniker “Soup Tsar,” he informed me.

I asked Young about his first soup night experience.

“I remember thinking, ‘Soup and a library! What are the odds of two very different of your favorite things being mashed together?’” he said.

“I first came to soup night with a crockpot of potato-leek soup and no idea of what to expect. What happened was what has become a typical experience for people who come: animated conversations about food, books, the weather, whatever.

“Acquaintances were renewed and new ones formed. It quickly grew (and grew).”

Like Bodkhe, Young is a lifelong library aficionado. “I have used and appreciated libraries and librarians since grade school,” he told me. “While today I am inclined to use the internet for quick access to information, I still love actual books, the buildings that house them and the people who read them.

“My wife and I have an unofficial goal to visit every western Massachusetts library. Between us, we have probably been to 30 so far.”

This year, trustee Patricia Donohue has taken over coordinating soup nights. Donohue makes sure that there are four pots of soup in the library for each event (at least one vegetarian). Donohue herself bakes a mean sourdough bread.

“While (Donohue) needs four cooks to sign up in advance,” librarian Liz Jacobson-Carroll told me, “additional pots are welcome, as are spontaneous contributions of cheese, bread, cider and salad.” The librarian estimated that each gathering attracts about two dozen people.

“We had over 30 people — standing room only — at the last soup night, and have yet to see leftovers,” she stated proudly.

Jacobson-Carroll believes that soup nights are a boon for the Buckland community. At first, she noted, the trustees thought that the evening would attract mostly seniors, but the soup sippers have turned out to be a varied bunch: newcomers and established residents, older people and younger ones.

“It’s a huge success,” she announced. “No agenda, no program. Just soup.”

Soup nights take place twice a month in January and February at the Buckland Public Library on Upper Street in Buckland. This year’s next (and final) gathering will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 20, at 5:30 p.m. All are welcome.

African sweet potato, peanut soup

Alan Young says he came to cooking late in life when he “began to realize that the companies who prepare food do not necessarily have our health foremost in their minds.” He now cooks extensively, both at home and at his local senior center.

Soup is one of Young’s favorite things to make and eat, and this vegan potful is one of his signature soups. He doesn’t always follow the recipe exactly, he confessed.

“I fire up the stove and in about an hour have a fragrant potful, never exactly the same, but usually more than OK.”

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon vegetable or Canola oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons minced, fresh ginger

1½ teaspoons ground cumin (plus more to taste later)

1½ teaspoons ground coriander

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 14-ounce can crushed, unseasoned tomatoes

1½ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

4½ cups water

1 pinch cayenne pepper (I would try a little crushed red pepper)

2 tablespoons peanut butter

Salt to taste (be sparing)

¼ cup chopped, unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts

1 bunch chopped fresh cilantro

Instructions:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander and cinnamon. Continue to sauté.

Stir in the tomatoes, sweet potatoes and carrot pieces. Continue to cook and stir for 5 minutes.

Pour the water into the saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat. In a food processor or blender, blend the soup until it is almost smooth. Stir in the cayenne. Return the soup to the saucepan. Whisk in the peanut butter and cook until heated through. Add salt to taste, plus a bit more cumin.

Serve warm, with the peanuts and cilantro as optional (but delicious) garnishes. Serves 6.

Food writer Tinky Weisblat of Hawley is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and the forthcoming “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” For more information about Tinky visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.