Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Cold Corn Soup

My mother loves buttermilk. When I was growing up, she would buy vats of it and sit happily curled up with a clear glass of thick creamy buttermilk. She tipped the glass and the milk receded, leaving its history in filthy chunky streaks. If the glass was rotated with each drink, the clear would turn white and there was no telling how much of the vile matter was left.

My dislike towards buttermilk probably began when my mother first brought it home: “Ew! Buttermilk?! Why would you drink butter?!” I obediently tasted it, confirming my suspicion of its disgusting nature, spat it back into the cup and thoroughly washed my mouth clean with water and crackers. My brothers held similar sentiments to the fraud milk.

Regardless of her children’s opinions, every few weeks my mother would buy a quart of it. Her prized purchase, she coddled the slim carton like a newborn, setting it gently between the two mammothly awkward gallons of milk and silhouettes of my father’s beer in the refrigerator. We sat down to dinner, places set, milk all around: 2% milk poured for the kids, buttermilk for my mother. I watched my mother’s clear glass turn progressively scum-covered, grimacing with the thought of its improperly heavy consistency.

Sometimes we ran out of 2% milk. My mother, thinking she was so clever, would pour our glasses full of buttermilk. My brothers and I saw the scam before we ever sat down: “I’m not drinking that.”
“What are you talking about? It’s just milk.”
“That’s not milk. That’s that… buttermilk.”
“No it’s not.”
“Yes it is. I can tell because it’s not white.”
White, pristine, pure, the color of half a cow. The color of milk. Real milk. The only milk my brothers and I consumed. We went to the refrigerator to confirm our suspicion: there was no gallon of 2%: “See, I told you. It’s buttermilk.”
“No, it’s the last of the 2%. I threw the container away.”
…Walking to the trash compactor.
“Oh, I already took the trash out…”
A lie. The trash was full. I fetched a glass of juice and sat slumped with crossed arms as my mother’s glass grew opaque throughout dinner. I pushed my buttermilk glass her way, she happily took seconds.

More often than not, a fresh gallon of milk would grace the shelves of the refrigerator after an episode like this. Sometimes, time passed too quickly and the buttermilk remained an intruder on the dinner table. The episode repeated itself with little variation:
“I’m not drinking that.”
“What are you talking about?”
“That’s not milk. That’s the buttermilk.”
“No it’s not. I bought regular milk, look:” My mother would lift a glass and slosh the milk around a bit, coating the sides and comparing it to her own glass, “see, mine’s thicker,” she would proudly proclaim.
I knew her trick: “That’s just because you watered ours down. I’m not drinking that.”

Life continued and sooner than later my mother stopped attempting to pass buttermilk off as regular milk. If it was spied in the refrigerator, I pushed it off to the back recesses, allowing real beverages to hold court.

Strangely enough, I love buttermilk. I now happily reach for it every few weeks in the grocery and pull it from my refrigerator. I love it in pancakes and as the base to decadently rich frostings. It is delicious-- Just not alone.

It must have been with a severe lapse in my childhood trauma memory bank that I read a M.F.K. Fisher recipe and thought Cold Buttermilk Soup actually sounded good. Surprisingly refreshing so I copied the recipe down. Adapting it a
bit to suit my own flavors (scallops instead of shrimp, the addition of corn and broth and no sugar).

This soup has become a summertime favorite, especially when corn hits peak season.

Serving size= 6 people. Active time= 15 minutes. Inactive time= 1-2 hours
* 1 quart buttermilk
* 2 cups vegetable or chicken broth or stock
* 4 ears of corn
* 1 pound of scallops (or shrimp)
* 1 cucumber, diced
* 2 Tbl spicy mustard
* ¼ cup chopped dill
* 1 Tbl butter
* salt/ pepper to taste

1) Using a sharp knife, carefully slice the kernels off the ears of corn. If using large scallops, cut into quarters.
2) Over medium heat in a large skillet, melt the butter. When pan is hot, add the corn and scallops. Cook about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until both change darker shades of their respective original coloring.
3) While the corn and scallops are cooking, dice the cucumber and chop the dill.
4) In a large bowl, place the buttermilk, broth, cucumber, mustard and dill.
5) Once corn and scallops are done, add to buttermilk mixture. Add salt/ pepper to taste. Stir and refrigerate until cooled.

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