Soup Up Your Lunch: It’s soup season and Jessica Stone is bowled over by Britain’s most creative soup-makers using fresh, seasonal and local ingredients

October 17, 2006

Seriously chunky or whizzed into velvety smoothness, there’s nothing like a bowl of piping hot soup to beat the chill. And while it may be the warmest October on record, there’s still no better time to sample the autumnal bounty than with comforting soups made with fresh, locally-sourced produce.

Provided they aren’t laden with cream or streaked with lashings of butter (although a helping of clam chowder now and again never hurts), soups are also incredibly good for you, and not just when you’re under the weather.

But if you don’t have the time or the inclination to stand over a bubbling pot, take heart. Forget tins of minestrone high in sugar and salt, there’s a new crop of ready-made soups that give a whole — and wholesome — new meaning to fast food.

“Jeremy makes his soup in exactly the same way you would make it at home, he just uses bigger pans and ladles,” says Helen Kent, his wife and joint owner of the Cumbrian company. His recipes are bursting with British pride. How about that old classic, cauliflower and blue cheese spiked with Garstang blue from Dewlay in Lancashire? Or lentil and bacon beefed up with Woodalls of Waberthwaite diced pancetta?

“Local” is something today’s best producers strive for in the truest sense, drawing ingredients and inspiration from the immediate area. The Yorkshire Soup Company looks first at England’s Northeast before venturing nationally. The result? Delicious combinations like their award-winning beetroot, parsnip, ginger and horseradish soup. “All our ingredients arrive as fresh, raw and un-prepped. They are hand-prepared by us,” says Terry Williams of the Yorkshire Soup Company.

At the popular Manchester lunch spot Soup Kitchen, the hunk of dunkable bread comes from a nearby bakery. Then we have Rod and Ben’s, who have taken the local route to its logical extreme: their own backyard. College friends Rodney Hall and Ben Moseley make their mostly vegetarian soups using what they grow on their 106-acre organic farm in Devon. Oh, and “a bit of salt and pepper”.

And you can taste it. Short of scrubbing, peeling, dicing and simmering, such creative soups – whether ladled for you at a nearby counter or just warmed off the stove at home – are like childhood in a bowl, with the added pleasures of grown-up flavour.

The souper seven

SOUP KITCHEN 31-33 Spear Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester (0161 236 5100; ) Six daily soups and heartier “bowl food” are prepared every morning from mostly Northwest produce at this informal neighbourhood canteen. Head chef Will Rogerson makes sure there are always veggie and vegan options.

JEREMY’S SOUPS (017683 53311) Jeremy and Helen Kent’s hand-made soups are brimming with local produce and, except for the chicken broth, are all gluten free. From independent grocers, delicatessens and farm shops throughout the UK as well as Booths in the Northwest and, coming soon: select branches of Waitrose in Yorkshire.

ROD AND BEN’S Bickham Farm, Kenn, Devon (01392 833833; Winners of a 2006 Soil Association Food & Drink Award for organic, made-to-order creations like soul-soothing potato and spinach curry. They’ve also been named one of Rick Stein’s food “Superheroes.” Available from fine food specialists and organic cafes across the UK and Edinburgh.

THE YORKSHIRE SOUP COMPANY (01765 641920; Founder Belinda Williams celebrates the British season with vibrant, colourful combinations like Yorkshire Onion Soup with Theakston’s Ale and Mustard. At independent grocers throughout the UK, as well as Fortnums, Harrods, Selfridges, Booths and northern branches of Waitrose.

THE QUIET REVOLUTION 28 Marylebone High Street, London W1U (020 7487 5683) Situated within the Aveda salon in this food-lover’s village, Jenny Wilson’s organic café serves up seasonal soups like the almost beefy mushroom, red lentil and red wine. All come with a dash of zen and fresh bread to mop up your cup.

THE WEARDALE ORGANIC SOUP COMPANY (01388 517384) Christine Peart runs a true cottage industry, whipping Yorkshire veggies into regional recipes like the Taste Awards 2005 winner tomato and red pepper with melted Wensleydale cheese. All the soups are vegetarian or vegan and are licensed by the Coeliac Society. From farmers’ markets and outlets in northern England, Cumbria and County Durham, or by mail order THE

KNOBBLY CARROT 01570 422064; This Welsh company makes small-hand cooked batches using fresh, organic vegetables, natural spring water from Ty Nant. Favourites include the MmmMushroom & Garlic infused with caramelised onions, potatoes and soya milk. At farm shops and independent retailers in England and Wales, including natural food stores across London