Tuesday, September 25, 2012

bygone days

Kansans know about prohibition.  Isn't it crazy to think that our country just out-and-out illegalized alcohol for fourteen years?  Back when we had cable included in the cost of our rent, watching Boardwalk Empire was one of my favorite Sunday evening activities.  What a fantastically done representation of this time period in American history.

But Kansans, special gluttons for punishment, outlawed liquor and beer from 1881 to 1948 - longer than any other state.  And on-site sale of liquor (i.e. licensing for bars and restaurants to sell alcohol "by the drink") was prohibited until 1987!  Over one hundred years of restricted access.  Did it work?  All I can say is that a large number of my family members managed to become alcoholic Kansans during that time period - so I think not.

Even still, there are complicated laws about alcohol percentage, what time different percentages can be sold, where they can be sold (proximity to schools and churches), and what days of the week. In my younger days, there was a frequent dash to the store before 11 pm so we could buy something over 3.2% by volume.

The first legal brewery to open in Kansas after prohibition ended is in my hometown.  It's called Free State Brewing Company (I will save the Jayhawker obsession with all things "Free State" for another post).  Open since 1989, Free State is a landmark in downtown Lawrence, occupying the space of an old train station.  It was mandatory in my adolescence to own at least one shirt with their locally famous slogan:  "because, without beer, things do not seem to go as well . . ."

Their beers are scrumptious, hand-crafted, seasonally changing, and are probably responsible for establishing a discriminating palate for fine brews amongst the people of northeastern Kansas. 

It doesn't hurt that the food is pretty freaking good, too.

One perennial favorite of picky kids and open-minded adults alike is the Cheddar Ale soup.  It warms you in fall and winter.  My friend Lauren notoriously ordered chicken fingers and Cheddar Ale soup at Free State for years. 

Naturally, their Ad Astra Ale (a rich, balanced amber ale) features prominently in the recipe, but I have no access to it here in Nashville.  They also use Alma cheddar, which I can't get ahold of either.  So I made some adaptations.  I subbed Yazoo Gerst Amber Ale (Nashville local brew) and cheddar from our CSA.  I found the recipe in a 2010 issue of the Lawrence Journal-World.

Cheddar Ale Soup

3 T butter
3 T AP flour
1/4 C minced onion
1/4 C small diced red bell pepper
1/4 C small diced green bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 C amber ale
3 oz cream cheese
3 C cream
2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1 t hot sauce
fresh parsley and thyme to taste
6 oz grated sharp cheddar

Add 1 T butter to a large Dutch oven.  Cook peppers, onion, and garlic over medium heat for 5-10 minutes, until translucent.  Add remaining 2 T butter and flour, whisking vigorously to incorporate.  Lower heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes.

Add the ale in small increments, whisking well to avoid clumping.  Cut cream cheese into smaller cubes and add to pot.  Mash and stir cream cheese until it is totally melted.  Gradually add the cream to the pot, mixing well after each addition.  Add salt, pepper, hot sauce, thyme and/or parsley, and mix well.  Bring the heat up a little bit (you may want to use a thermometer - they suggest heating just to 160 degrees, but not above). 

Add the grated cheese in three increments, mixing well after each addition. Stir until totally melted.  If the soup seems thin, add more cheese.  If it seems thick, add a bit of milk.

Serves 6-8. 

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