Dirty Little Secrets: Campbell’s Tomato Soup

In the not-too-distant past, I have railed against Campbell’s condensed soups, in particular the cream of mushroom and cream of celery varieties that are commonly substituted for béchamel sauce in casserole recipes across this vast and blessed land. On several occasions I’ve also remarked on the puzzling consumption of Velveeta cheese, for which I inevitably receive a handful of responses extolling its virtues, but let’s leave that for the nonce. People like what they like and the palate is a mysterious organ. How else to explain the existence of head cheese?  Witness the recipe:

I assure you, that is NOT cheese. Via Cheese Dip blog.

To make head cheese, clean the hog’s head by removing the snout, eyes, ears, brains and all the skin. Trim away all the fat from the head and cut it into four pieces. Place in a crock or enamel container. Cover with a solution of 1/2-cup canning salt to 1-gallon water. Make sure the pieces are completely covered. Let it soak for 5-hours to draw out all the blood…

There’s more, but I can’t bear to go into it. At least they remove the snout, though it’s unclear to me whether it gets tossed out or thrown in the crock. Anyways, you get the idea. Different streaks for different freaks, as they say.

Back to soup. So as I was saying, I have a bee in my bonnet about Campbell’s soups generally, and in particular I loathe the glutinous white ones. That said, we all have our dirty little secrets and one of mine involves Campbell’s tomato soup and Anthony Bourdain. Leaving aside Tony — who really is blameless in all this and will never join me in a bowl of soup homemade or otherwise, let alone consent to lift the restraining order — let’s talk soup.

Um Um Good!

Make no mistake, this stuff is really not good for you. It’s loaded with sugar and salt, but as far as I can tell, precious little in the way of tomatoes, unless you count “tomato puree (water, tomato paste)” as tomatoes. Obviously a plum tomato or two were involved at some point way back in the processing process, but the product has been stepped on so many times by the time it reaches the can, that it hardly counts. It’s like calling glue horse cream or labeling gin as juniper juice. Technically true, but only just.

Cuvee Tomato Bisque courtesy whatscookingamerica.net

Now, I have tried other soups — everything from Progresso, to Annie’s Organic to ten-dollar bowls of tomato bisque that high end restaurants serve by the quarter cup in a saucer and topped with crème fraiche and a basil sprig. Trust me, I’ve tasted them all, and yet I have to say, nothing satisfies like a big old bowl of Campbell’s tomato.

There are two schools of thought as to how to reconstitute it: with milk/cream or water. Personally, I figure in for a penny, in for a pound, so why waste your time and salt allocation on watery tomato paste? I make it the way my mother did, but even more so. She added half a can of water and half a can of whole milk, which yielded a creamy delicious soup that wasn’t entirely ruinous in terms of calories, and didn’t use up the last drop of milk in the fridge. She also added “parties” (aka squares of buttered white toast) instead of crackers, and though it was a stroke of branding genius (what kid won’t eat parties?), I prefer crackers. My version uses half a can of half & half combined with half a can of water, but you’ll do as you like.

We all have our dirty little secrets, some involving food, others…well, other things. I suppose as vices go, this one is is pretty tame, though if you served it with a grilled head cheese sandwich….

About WSW

Writer, wife, mother. Toiler in the bottomless, black, soul-sucking coal mine of domestic life. Thank God for the portable bar.

Posted on March 10, 2012, in Good to know, One bowl meals and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. I was not feeling well and husband goes out and gets me C chicken soup….I was shocked that he did this…I always have a stash of real soup in my freezer….

  2. Substituting soup for a bechamel is just freaking lazy. Seriously, 5 minutes. 3 ingredients. *SIGH*

    It’s for this, and that awesome Secret Treasure Loaf recipe you shared with us all *snicker*.. that I award you both the Versatile Blogger Award and the Kreativ Blogger award. Keep up the awesomely funny blogs! 🙂

    http://confluentkitchen.com/2012/03/11/a-red-letter-week/

    • I am overwhelmed by your generosity and thank you from the bottom of my nearly pickled heart. It’s remarkable how many people found the Secret Treasure Loaf appealing — clearly our work here is far from done.

  3. Snoring Dog Studio

    I gave up on canned soups years ago. The sodium levels are atrocious! Even the low sodium ones are not that at all. I go without or I make my own. For too long we’ve worried about trans fats only – it’s time to say no to sodium at these hideous levels. But I will admit this: My all time favorite Campbell’s soup is Bean with Bacon. However, after eating a bowl or two, I need to drink a lake.

  4. I admit it–I love Campbell’s tomato soup and a grilled cheese too. Beyond the sodium and it’s very processed-ness, the BPA gets me too. Sigh.

  5. I have a hard time eating a whole bowl of tomato soup at all. But if I am having a grilled cheese sandwich, Campbell’s in the only thing that will satisfy my dunking. Anything fancier just ruins it. And I am soooo with you on the “cream of” soups. They really gross me out.

  6. Spam with velveeta melted on top and of course, on white bread. How could mom do that to us? To this day, I’ve never bought Spam. My children will probably complain about how I served way too many Ramen noodles. Upside? They can all use chop sticks.

  7. Mom used to make Campbell’s Tomato soup with grilled cheese when I was a kid. My father used it in his chili. My sister made it and added noodles. I don’t eat it, too much sodium. Anyway if I want tomato soup I can make it from scratch. Got an immersion blender and everything. Dad liked headcheese too. Jellied pork, ugh.

  8. Well, it’s iconic – so say Andy Warhol, anyway. The flavor, likewise, is iconic. I’ve never made it with milk or cream, but I think I’ll give your suggestion a shot. Progresso’s Tomato with Basil isn’t bad – I’m surprised you didn’t favor that one as it has a more complex, savory flavor. That said, I grew up on Cambell’s tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches – my grandmother’s favorite meal to share with me, so I can never slight the soup. I think, for this generation anyway, that it’s become a part of our cultural identity. The image of head cheese is now stuck in my brain for the rest of the day, thank you very much. I will retaliate with this: SPAM, Vienna sausages, Velveeta shells and cheese and canned chicken. I can already feel you shivering.

  9. My uncle had a dirty food fetish and that was spam, any which way. Wrapped in bacon…even better.

    As for me? I have secrets, just gluttonous tendencies. 😉

  10. I’ve always enjoyed a little soup with my salt. Dear God the amount of sodium…in both.

    • Reading labels is my new hobby. Sadly I’ve become one of those annoying people stopping up the grocery aisles while picking up every single brand of whatever to compare content. It’s a wonder I don’t get into more altercations than I do.

  11. I want to grow up in a house where you eat tomato soup and watch American Bandstand! I want a do-over on my childhood and I want it now.

    Anyway … please don’t ruin Spaghettios for me.

  12. I never eat Campbell’s products. I did once and stepped on a fishing hook immediately after. That’s what I get for hanging out with the weird kid on the street Randy Wood.

    Andy Warhol is an asshole.

  13. As a kid, I use to eat this “stuff” with a tuna sandwich..until I learned that tuna was one of two products (the other is chocolate…sorry) that the FDA allows for the most ppm of fly larva (yup..aka maggots), and rat droppings. Campbells also (continually) has one of the highest number of botulism complaints than any other canned product on the market. Just another reason in case anyone wasn’t convinced. Bon appetit!

  14. Campbell’s Tomato Soup was a staple in our house growing up. On Sundays my Mom and I would watch “American Bandstand” and eat tuna sandwiches and bowls of tomato soup for lunch. I still do not know why the tuna sandwich and tomato soup go well together, but I still eat it today…That’s my DLS.

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