Recently I was inspired by the book Nella Last's War--a true story, the diary of an ordinary middle-aged English housewife detailing stories of her daily life during WW2, often mentioning the tempting small meals she created resourcefully using up all of the little bits and pieces she could find when there really wasn't much food or any variety at all to be had. While reading, I very much wished to be a guest at Nella's table (although her charming table featured meat products frequently and my humble vegetarian home never does).
This recipe is my homage to Nella's WW2 Barrow-on-Furness home. The reason I specify mushroom stems particularly is that my mother always threw the stems away when cooking mushrooms so that's what I learned to do, too. I don't know why we did that but I had never cooked a mushroom stem. It was only through reading about Nella using every tiny little bit of anything at all that I realized what a dreadfully wasteful thing I had been brought up to do, and I wanted to honor the decision to do better with resources. Thanks, Nella!
Nella's Creamy Mushroom Soup
Finely chop the stems only from 1/2 pound of mushrooms (use the caps for other meals). Saute in 2 tablespoons butter (Nella wouldn't have had the butter during the rationed food shortages of England in WW2 but it's modern-day Mississippi here so I do have it and I never use margarine). Mash the pieces a bit with the spoon while sauteeing.
When the mushroom bits are nicely browned and soft, add 2 tablespoons of flour, stirring thoroughly to a smooth consistency. Add 1/2 teaspoon of poultry seasoning (or simply use sage if you haven't got poultry seasoning), stirring well. Add 1 cup boiling water a little at a time, stirring to keep all smooth. Add 1 cup of warmed milk, pouring it slowly over the back of the mixing spoon so that it won't curdle, stirring well. Add a dash of sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
If you prefer a thinner soup or if the soup grows thicker through standing, add a bit more water or milk as you wish. On the other hand, if you elect to leave the soup quite thick indeed, it will do wonderfully as a vegetarian gravy over rice or potatoes.
You may also, as I did, pour the soup through a wire mesh sieve, mashing all well through the sieve so that the soup is a creamier consistency with no tiny chunky pieces.
Serve warm in a small wide pretty bowl with homemade croutons, just a few. And if you wish to be a bit fancy (Nella herself always adored dainty food and a beautifully set table), a little dollop of sour cream on top. Serve with a small crispy salad and tiny tomato sandwiches for a wonderful teatime meal.