It’s a Wednesday night. We’re on the homestretch after a day filled with toddler laughs and toys strewn on the floor, naptime snuggles and pleas to share. I pull out the giant soup pot I inherited from my mom. That pot has seen gallons of homemade spaghetti sauce, wild rice soup, and our perpetual favorite, Autumn Chowder. I place it on the stove, turn on the heat, and start frying chopped bacon and sauteing an onion. The potatoes, carrots, and corn get dumped in next, followed by broth, milk, and loads of cheese. It’s hearty, rich, and full of the flavors of fall—quintessential comfort food.
I think of my mom while I stir, and soon I’m back in her kitchen. The fan above her stove hums, and the smell of bacon wafts through the house. She wears a stained apron and holds a wooden spoon in her hand. She stirs up magic in that pot. Dishes cover the kitchen island, alongside the skins of onions and trimmings from carrots. Our excitement grows as dinnertime nears. The “First Making of Autumn Chowder” felt like a special occasion, despite usually occurring on an average weeknight amidst soccer practice and algebra homework. We set bowls and soup spoons on the table—the table always adorned with one of my mom’s seasonal tablecloths—and shuffle to fold napkins, fill glasses, and find our seats.
I pull myself out of the memory and back into my own kitchen. Dirty dishes balance in a precarious stack next to the sink, and the squeals of three kids fill our ears. Our table sits bare. I rarely use a tablecloth, and attempting to set out dishes and utensils in advance seems useless with a one-year-old who constantly climbs on said table. But my stovetop fan hums a familiar tune, and the savory aroma of onions and bacon smells like memories that make me tear up—although I blame it on the pesky alliums.
It’s been five years since she died, and I notice her absence most when I’m cooking. Yet somehow it feels like the act of chopping vegetables and melting cheese keeps her alive.
I sit at the table with my husband and kids, bowls in front of us and my phone out ready to document the occasion. To anyone else, this appears like an ordinary, chaotic dinner with three small children. But to me, sharing Autumn Chowder with them for the first time feels as important as a holiday. My kids will never know their Nana, a reality I will always grieve. But there’s somehow comfort in soup that graces our table as soon as the leaves change and the weather turns crisp. There’s nourishment from certain dishes that goes far beyond the sum of the ingredients, nourishment that happens when the table becomes not just a place to eat, but a place to remember.
Tears fall in grief, while I smile with gratitude. This isn’t just a meal. For my family and me, it’s a living memory—one I’ll keep making, year after year.
And so I keep cooking.
Yields 6-8 servings
1 pound bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
2 pounds potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces (I like Yukon Gold potatoes)
1 pound carrots, sliced into ¼-inch rounds
1 pound bag of frozen corn
1 cup chicken stock
12 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup flour*
4 cups milk
Chopped fresh parsley
In a large pot or Dutch oven, fry the chopped bacon over medium-high heat until it’s almost cooked through. Turn off the heat, and drain off all but 2-3 tablespoons of the fat. Turn the heat back to medium. Add the diced onions and cook for about 3-5 minutes, until the onions are tender and the bacon is crisp.
Stir in the potatoes, carrots, corn, and chicken stock. Cover and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the vegetables are cooking, in a medium bowl mix the cheese and flour so that the cheese is evenly coated. Set aside.
Turn the heat on the chowder to low. Slowly add the milk, and stir constantly until the milk is heated through (do not boil!). This only takes a couple minutes.
Slowly add the cheese/flour mixture. Stir until the cheese is fully incorporated and the chowder is heated through. Top with chopped fresh parsley. Serve and enjoy!
*Note: I have also made this recipe with gluten-free all purpose flour. The texture is slightly better with regular AP flour, but gluten-free flour definitely still works!