Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962

It wasn’t a huge grocery list but too much for the small cart. I was feeling pretty efficient as I zipped through Produce bagging lemons and ginger and cilantro and yellow squash. The plastic produce bags were plentiful, twisty ties standing at attention in the little holders. I try to organize my list in the order I move through the market (which most of you have probably been doing forever). I used to rely on my “I’ll remember when I see it” method. I’m halfway done, in the center section with canned soups, pasta, baking staples. I can’t find my reading glasses to check the expiration date, price per oz, etc. I dig in my purse for another minute then decide I’ll have to make do. Four Chicken Noodle, two Tomato, one Cream of Mushroom. Ranch packets (“Buttermilk Recipe,” I hope), red wine vinegar . . . and I’m on my way to Teas and Coffee and Dairy.

“That’s what Campbell’s soups are! M’m, M’m good!”

I only eat Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup a handful of times a year, usually in winter when I need a comforting, steamy mug of something for lunch to keep going . . . as opposed to climbing in bed for a warm nap. It’s a taste of childhood if you grew up in the 50s and 60s. A can of soup, a scant can of water—for fullest flavor, heated ‘til bubbly. Just enough time to make half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to go with it. They’re a team. If I’m really going old school, I might have a scattering of Cheetos on the side too.

I cannot adequately express the depth of my disappointment when I take the first sip and realize that I have come home with something other than Campbell’s Chicken Noodle . . . something like Campbell’s “Healthy Request” Chicken Noodle or “Homestyle” Chicken Noodle!!! Now, I make a tasty homemade chicken soup more often than I open a can of Campbell’s so it’s not that I’m averse to other versions of chicken soup in general . . . but when you’re expecting the familiar taste of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle with your peanut butter sandwich, nothing else will do!

Homemade Chicken and Vegetable

The same goes for Campbell’s Tomato Soup. While I eat it even more rarely, when you have your heart set on grilled cheese and a cup of creamy soup, you do not want “Tomato Bisque” or “Healthy Request” Tomato or “Homestyle Harvest” Tomato with Basil. Again, it’s one can of soup, 9/10ths of a can of milk stirred in gradually, heated until almost bubbly. That’s the magic. Campbell’s Tomato Soup is also the secret ingredient adding creaminess to Mom’s Hamburger Goulash. You can identify the browned hamburger, onions, and chopped tomatoes in the pot of macaroni but that slightly sweet creaminess cutting the acid of the tomatoes . . . that’s Campbell’s Tomato Soup, undiluted, straight from the can.

Yes, I know it’s “old school” to use soups in recipes, but our Chicken Chili Enchiladas would not be as good without Campbell’s Cream of Chicken smoothing out the tangy sour cream, chopped onions, cheese, and chilis. Nor would my Hamburger Stroganoff or Tuna Noodle Casserole have the same consistency and flavor without Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom. Yes, I make a creamy béchamel for the tuna casserole first, with a few slices of melting cheese, mild cheddar, or bit of cream cheese before mixing in the soup and tuna…but the mushroom soup adds just a bit of depth.

Since I’m fairly sure Campbell’s Soup will not read this and halt production of updated varieties of Chicken Noodle and Tomato Soups, here are a couple of suggestions for ensuring that you come home with the soup you want, if you don’t want to mess with success. Even if you forget your glasses: 1) Look for the recognizable Andy Warhol artwork on the can. No other colors other than red and white, excepting for the bronze seal of course. 2) Pay attention to text style (see #1). Be careful, the “Tomato Bisque” can be tricky.

2 thoughts on “Monday minutiae . . .

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