When flipping through recipes I always stop a moment on Dayton’s Chunky Tomato Soup, even if I know I’m not adding it to the week’s menu. Just the title and I’m transported. There I am in the den of my childhood home. The home my grandfather purchased for his growing family in the early 60s. The home where my mother and aunts and uncles grew up. The Grey House, sitting catty-corner on its giant lot on a street that used to be the suburbs but increasingly edges more and more towards midtown.
A classic 1940’s colonial. Radiant heat in the floors warmed my belly in the winters as I laid on the rug and watched Rugrats. Corridors in the basement that scare me to this day. A kitchen frozen in time with yellow linoleum floors, a green-cushioned built-in bench wrapped around a slightly atomic era metal-poled table. Insane yellow, blue, and green large floral print curtains. God, I loved that kitchen.
It was impractical. It housed the strangest oven I’ve ever seen. With a top compartment that was also? an oven? But not really. Mom called it a double oven but it wasn’t one in the sense that ovens are double now. I’d sit at that table and chat with Mamaw on the corded wall phone. Wait for my dad to come in the garage door after work. Imagine tiny versions of my aunts and uncles crowded around the table.
I grew up in the place the generation before me grew up. It had its challenges. But, I wouldn’t trade that childhood for anything. My room had this daisy and polka dot print light blue wallpaper and shag blue carpeting. You could still see the place my Aunt Mar-Mar connected the dots to spell out Peter Frampton with a pencil. I won’t tell you what she wrote on the built-in dresser drawers.
I loved feeling a sense of history in that home. I loved that Christmas had been in that same living room, with a beautiful blue and grey cherry tree mural on one wall, since what my child brain believed was the dawn of time. I love the foiled square silver and frosted blue wallpaper in the dining room and the giant glass top table we sat at for special occasions or my fancy tea party phase.
And I loved the tradition of food my mother instilled in me. On cold nights, or hurried nights, or ordinary but memorable nights, we’d gather at that table and chow down on the greatest hits of my youth. Carolyn’s Chicken Curry Casserole, Johnnie M., Baked Chicken Over Rice, The Prospect’s Pesto, Mamaw’s Brisket. Dayton’s Chunky Tomato Soup. It lives in my bones.
You can thank my mom’s best friend and one of my favorite humans ever, Pam, for this recipe. (You can actually thank her for several of my favorite recipes, like Johnnie M. Casserole, too)Eat it with grilled cheese, any way you like it. But I’m a firm believer that grainier bread makes for better grilled cheese and soup dipping.
Why is it Dayton’s? The answer has been lost to me. And I like it that way.
UPDATE: Pam and Mom have solved the Dayton mystery. While Pam was living in Minneapolis, there was a newspaper column that featured recipe requests. This recipe, from Dayton’s Department Store Lunch Room, was published. Pam said Dayton’s was one of her favorite places to go for lunch and she had the soup often.
She also reminded me it was the only tomato soup my dad liked.
Other recipes Pam and Judy wish they had? Miller and Paine’s Cheese Soup, Cream of Chicken Soup, and Original Cinnamon Rolls. Miller and Paine was a restaurant in Lincoln when they were in college. I don’t know that I can ever find those exact recipes, but maybe we’ll do a series where we try to replicate.
I love making things from scratch. But I find that a lot of my family’s traditional recipes are a mixture of from-scratch methods supplemented with store-bought items. I’m sure I could spend the time coming up with ways to make the recipes entirely from scratch. But, I want to be kind to myself. And to you! This blog is meant for folx who don’t always have the time but sometimes do. Who wants to put in the effort without the exhaustion every single time.
I’m all for a five-hour cook-a-thon every once and while. But, sometimes you just gotta eat. Or you’ve got to feed your people. And dressing up a can of tomato soup is just as homemade as squeezing those tomatoes yourself. Take it easy sometimes. And don’t expect too much from yourself. I mean it. You’re doing great.
Dayton’s Chunky Tomato Soup
- Small dollop unsalted butter
- 1 small white onion, diced (about 1 cup)
- 2 cans (20ish oz.) tomato soup
- 2 cans (20ish oz.) whole milk
- 1 large can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes
- 2 tsp dried basil
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 2 dashes black pepper
- 4 strips bacon
- Large saucepan or soup pot
- Can opener
- Various measuring spoons and cups
- Large bowl
- Cutting board
- Chef’s knife
- Ladle or stirrin’ spoon
- Pan, Baking Sheet, or Microwave Bacon Tray for Bacon
- Cook your bacon how you want. I prefer microwaving bacon. It is the least amount of work and mess and waiting for the most crispy payout. My house likes crispy crispy crispy bacon. And I think the crispier the better in this soup, but I know the doneness of bacon is a personal thing. Let the bacon cool and crumble it. Set aside.
- Heat your butter over medium heat in a small pan. Toss in your onion once your butter is bubbly and cook until just about to brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Grab a large bowl and dump your soup cans in. Fill the cans with milk (2 cans worth) and dump them in. Add your diced tomatoes, basil, oregano, and pepper. Mix well. Add your cooled onions and bacon. Incorporate.
- Dump the soup mix into a pot and heat slowly over medium-low to medium heat based on your stovetop fickleness. You want to bring the mix to temperature slowly. Mixing while on the stove or bringing to a high temperature too fast will cause the milk to separate.
- You can leave this soup on a backburner over a low low temperature once it’s been brought to eating temp. Make your grilled cheese while it sits. Enjoy.