We were one of the many thousands of families who enjoyed Campbell’s condensed cream of mushroom soup at home. It’s no wonder that it was one of America’s favorite soups, because it was definitely one of ours. As someone who has always enjoyed home cooked meals, I’m not proud to say that we ate canned soup, but after all, we were kids and my parents would pick up a few cans to prepare as a quick meal. They, like other families across America, believed that they were nutritional and wholesome. Over the years, we’ve discovered that they really weren’t — especially after you look a little closer at the ingredient label.
Surprisingly enough, this is a highly processed food that contains little milk or cream BUT is loaded with salt and preservatives (in the form of MSG and others). The Campbell’s Soup Company was the goliath of the packaged food industry in the early 19th century, and began manufacturing condensed soup products in 1897.
The company’s condensed soups became staples of the American diet and many recipes were built around them for the sake of convenience. Remember that green bean casserole topped with fried onions that you’ve enjoyed just about every Thanksgiving? Yep, it’s one of Campbell’s classic recipes using the condensed cream of mushroom soup.
These types of products made millions of dollars for Campbell’s Soup, unfortunately at the expense of those who consumed them. As I got older, I began to read more about processed foods and I also began to pay more attention to ingredient labels. I read about preservatives like BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), a synthetic antioxidant added to the liners of cereal boxes to preserve freshness and deter the oxidation of fats. Take it a step further and read the medical research on BHT, and you will discover that is causes cancer in some animals and also interferes with the proper function of thyroid hormones. Other tidbits of information you may not readily come across show that this same BHT is used in the manufacture of plastics and resins and also used as a stabilizer in pesticides, gasoline and lubricants.
I also began to read about another approved chemical called BPA (Bisphenol A) primarily used in the interior lining of canned foods. This chemical also disrupts correct hormone function and can also lead to other problems such as type 2 diabetes and cancer.
I wanted to mention this because BPA has been used in the packaging of all Campbell’s Soup products for years, along with the products from many other manufacturers. While Campbell’s and most other major soup manufacturers have pledged to phase out BPA, they haven’t been very forthcoming on the details of how or when they plan to do this. Companies like General Mills who have moved away from using BPA in their Muir Glen canned products are not disclosing which chemicals (specifically) are being used as replacements. This can be even more confusing to consumers who may look for something that is BPA-free, but in fact discover that the replacement, such as BPS (Bisphenol S) is not necessarily any safer.
The best thing we can all do is remove canned products from our diet as best we can. I prefer to use only fresh or frozen items and have done so for years. The only items I still purchase in a can are the occasional tuna fish and tomato products.
To ensure a healthy meal, it’s important for us to return to the basics and make your meals from scratch as often as possible. Since cream of mushroom soup was always one of my favorite things to eat, it didn’t take me long to get a recipe together. It’s so delicious and there is rarely any leftover, especially if we make some homemade crouton shards tossed with some olive or grape seed oil and some herbs while making the soup. It’s really not that hard to make and you will enjoy it so much more. Prepare a huge pot and then portion it out into containers and freeze — if there is any left.
As a nation, we are unique when compared to others in Europe in allowing these chemicals in our food supply. many of these companies who do business abroad, have to develop different packaging to fit into their more stringent guidelines. I simply don’t understand it and I don’t think I ever will.
If you are committed to providing your family with more nutritious soups for your daily meals, make sure to also try my recipes for chicken noodle soup, Greek egg lemon soup (avgolemono), butternut squash and cheddar soup, spicy Maryland crab soup, pasta and vegetable soup, chicken and egg less dumplings, beef and barley soup and my mother’s famous lentil soup.
Old School Cream Of Mushroom Soup
3 pints finely chopped mushrooms (reserve some small ones to slice, saute and serve over each portion)
6 tablespoons olive oil
6 tablespoons flour
4 cups whole milk
1 cup filtered water
1 vegetable bouillon AND 1/2 chicken bouillon (I use Knorr), break into small pieces
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Pinch of thyme
Homemade croutons (Slice bread rolls in long thin shards, toss with olive oil and herb mix)
Before I get the soup going, I make my homemade croutons. I like to pick up day old bread rolls and keep them in the freezer for homemade croutons or bread crumbs. I slice the rolls in half lengthwise and then the roll itself in half, and then slice thin shards from there. I personally like a lot of croutons, so I will use one roll per person. Once sliced, I toss them well with some good olive oil (about 2 tablespoon per roll), and then I make an herb mix that includes:
2 teaspoons of parsley
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
This is enough for about 2 or 3 rolls, so make sure to make more if you are using more bread. Lay the croutons out onto a paper lined sheet tray and bake on very low heat until they are dried out, usually about 30-45 minutes on 200°F.
Next, chop up your 3 pints of mushrooms. I like to use the baby bellas and I may toss in a few shitakes for more depth of flavor, but use what you like. I usually stick to the baby bellas because I’m satisfied with the flavor I get out of them. Shitake mushrooms are really delicious and flavorful, but some may find them a bit too earthy, so use them sparingly until you get used to the flavor.
If I have guests over and want to present the soup a little more elegantly, I will slice a few of the smaller mushrooms and saute them separately with a little chopped onion in some olive oil, and use them as a garnish on top of the soup with the croutons…but this is totally up to you.
Place all of your chopped mushrooms into a small stock pot, add the 6 tablespoons of olive oil, crumble in your bouillon cubes and add 1 cup of filtered water. If you prefer, you can add 1 cup of a homemade, flavorful stock instead, but you will probably need to add a little salt so that you can draw out the liquid/flavor from the mushrooms.
Cook all of this together on moderate heat, and allow the mushrooms to wilt and release all of their flavor into the surrounding liquid. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes until the liquid reduces slightly, then add the cornstarch. Whisk in the cornstarch until well combined and then whisk in the milk.
Reduce the heat, switch to a wooden spoon and continue stirring. Add in the dried parsley, onion powder, garlic powder and dried thyme and the soup will begin to thicken. Dip a tablespoon into the soup to check the thickness. It should not be too thick at this point, but should just lightly coat the back of a spoon.
Lastly, taste for S&P and add more if you need to at this point. Do not add any additional salt early on, because the bouillon cubes contain a good bit of salt.
Refrigerate or freeze any leftover soup, and if you are storing the leftovers in the refrigerator to enjoy the next day, you may notice that the soup has thickened considerably and looks more like condensed soup. This is normal, and all you have to do is add a few extra tablespoons of stock or water to thin it out before you warm it up.