Monday, December 15, 2003

A Lot of Background For One Recipe
Down the middle of Cleveland runs the Cuyahoga River, and near its mouth is an area of lowlands called the Flats. Cleveland's earliest (white) settlers initially built their cabins here, but so many fell ill in the swampy environment that most soon migrated to the higher plateaus on the east and west sides, and then out onto the even higher continental shelf, which why the suburbs are invariably called something-"Heights", though there's a nary a hill to be seen for miles.

In the 19th century, the Ohio & Erie Canal and the growth of railroads turned the Flats, with its abundant room for docks and warehouses, into the industrial powerhouse of furnaces, mills, shipyards, oil refineries, and paint and chemical factories that built Cleveland's storied Millionaire's Row.

Alas, the boom times were not to last. Aircraft and roadways would replace water and railroad as the main modes of shipping. By the 1960's, the Flats had become a dumping ground for unwanted waste, leaving the Cuyahoga River so polluted that it literally, infamously, burned. The event lit the flames, so to speak, for environmental reform. But it also left the Flats a grim, post-industrial landscape of abandoned buildings and burned into the American consciousness an image of Cleveland as an urban nadir.

But in the mid-80's, from the ashes rose a new Flats for a new economy, fueled by entertainment and gentrification. Trendy riverbank restaurants by day and throbbing clubs by night. Weekend pleasure boats and high-end condos instead of shipping docks and warehouses. And for a long time things were good again.

Alas, this boom time seems not to have lasted either. It's now 2003, and the local hipsters are instead lunching downtown and partying in the warehouse district, and many a Flats fixture on the East Bank has had to pack it up.

The latest to go is the Watermark, which was located in a pre-Civil War chandlery shop. I myself have only been to the Flats two or three times, and the Watermark never. But we still have their soup recipe: a light, creamy pumpkin soup with the surprising yet delicious topping of cheddar. And it takes all of twenty minutes to make.

Southwestern Pumpkin Soup

3 cups chicken stock
1 cup cream (or evaporated milk)

1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
3 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup (packed) grated sharp cheddar cheese
Chopped fresh cilantro

Bring chicken stock and cream to boil in heavy medium pot. Whisk in canned pumpkin, brown sugar, cumin, chili powder, coriander and nutmeg. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until soup thickens slightly and flavors blend, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish each serving with cheddar cheese and cilantro and serve.

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