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Amy Allender [Photo: Amy Allender]
Amy Allender [Photo: Amy Allender]

She's Not From Around Here: Cream of Mushroom Soup

Amy Allender
 April 28, 2022
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We’ve got to talk about the blizzards one more time. Just once more. Then I’m done. Unless, of course we get another blizzard. If we get a blizzard in May, all bets are off and you betcha I’ll write about it.

But for today, let’s confidently hope that blizzard warnings are in the rearview mirror and we won’t need to lace up our snow boots again until — at earliest — September.

Now that the snow is melting and we are getting glimpses curbs along the streets (who knew curbs could be so dearly missed?), things are starting to look a little more normal. People are running errands. Dogs are being walked. Mail is being delivered. Store shelves are restocked.

It’s the store shelves I want to draw attention to today. The grocery-buying frenzy prompted by an imminent storm has come to a close. So, I’ll take this moment for a little commentary on the one item that flies off NoDak grocery store shelves when a blizzard is in the forecast.

Cream of mushroom soup.

Okay, really any “cream of” soup. However, I have it on good authority that cream of mushroom is often the preferred “cream of” because of its versatility. Apparently cream of celery is a close second. Surprisingly, cream of chicken ranks low on the list.

Around here, stocking up on cream of mushroom soup before heavy snowfall or sub-zero temperatures is a survival technique. Before our recent blizzards the “cream of” soups seemed to disappear from shelves as though they were rolls of toilet paper in March 2020. As I did my pre-storm shopping to stock up on my own version of necessities: coffee, coffee creamer, milk, and diapers, I couldn’t help but notice the vacant can slots in the soup aisle.

A sign that survival instincts have kicked in across Hot Dish Territory [Photo: Amy Allender]

I can’t liken it to anything else I’ve ever seen anywhere else. Cream of mushroom soup just may be the most singularly unifying North Dakotan item there is.

The need to be well stocked with cream soups separates the native North Dakotans from those of us who aren’t from around here. The weight you place on your cream soup inventory draws a distinct line between the casserolers and the hot-dishers.

Why cream of mushroom? Why cream soups? What do they need them for?

I have two words for you: Hot. Dish.

There’s a reason I call this “Hot Dish Territory” and this is it. It’s not just that folks here refer to casseroles as “hot dishes.” It’s the prominent place a hot dish has in society. If one is well stocked with cream of mushroom soup, the hot dish possibilities are nearly endless. You could make hamburger hot dish, taco hot dish, chicken and rice hot dish — or, the most popular of all, tater tot hot dish. You could also go the pot-pie route, which I’ve been told is a close cousin to the hot dish.

Tater Tot Hot Dish, in case you are not familiar [Photo: Amy Allender]

When cold and snow encroach, the natives turn to cream of soup and tried and true hot dish recipes just as much as shovels and snow throwers. It’s comfort, familiarity, warmth and faith that this storm will pass and summer will arrive. It’s the beauty of a humble can of soup becoming a mascot for weathering the storm. It’s all of that and more, served out of a 9x13 pan, held together with cream of mushroom soup.

It's something those of us who aren’t from around here should stop and notice. How do they do it? How do they get through a lifetime of brutal winters and unpredictable springs? Hot dishes. And cream of mushroom soup.

Do you have an observation that is uniquely Dakotan or Minot? I’d love to hear from you. Reach me on Instagram @amy_allender or by email at amy.allender@mydakotan.com.

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