Sunday, October 13, 2013

"Baseball Soup" --Plymouth's Portuguese Comfort Food

Plenty of fresh kale and spicy Portuguese sausage with a flavorful broth and small pasta
We spent a huge part of our growing up years in Plymouth, Massachusetts. There were the expected chowders, lobster rolls and corn breads, and lots of Italian American markets full of all the Italian food you could think of. But there is also a very vibrant and distinct Portuguese tradition in Plymouth, and it certainly comes through in much of the food we all came to know and love. No trip downtown was complete without stopping at one of the bakeries and getting a linguica roll, a long white yeast roll with chunks of grilled juicy linguica, a Portuguese pork sausage, baked inside. There is also the mysteriously named Baseball Soup, full of kale and rounds of chouriso sausage. It is an item you could get at some restaurants, but probably was more of a staple in many, many Plymouth homes. My Dad got a recipe from the chef at the now-closed 1620 restaurant that was on Samoset and Water streets. Even the chef did not know why this soup has the name it does. I have recently asked a lot of Plymouth natives and there is no real answer (yet!). I have just had a great discussion on facebook with lots of Plymouth friends, some who have grown up with this soup. The reasons for the name include "you can THROW anything and everything in it, including a baseball." Many friends commented that their grandmothers and mothers explained it that way, and it was also called "garbage soup."Another likely one is "They sold this before baseball games in Plymouth, so the non-Portuguese customers nicknamed it baseball soup."  A couple other good possibilities are that it comes from the Portuguese word "curves,"  which is the local word for kale/green (I think it may be a more regional word for kale, meaning curvy, curly)  And yet another reason given is because when made with potatoes, the potatoes looked like baseballs. But I have to add the best comment from my friend Michael Eric Pereira's dad:


"Only heard that expression in Plymouth. Since it is an English word which has nothing to do with Portugal or Brazil, I imagine it is word play made up by who? That means throw all the leftovers in. Also had plenty of soup growing up at home and at the feasts all with their own names. Baseball was baseball, not soup."

Mr. Pereira, who is in his 80s, grew up in New Bedford, MA, which has the largest population of Portuguese people outside of Portugal, and he never heard the name there, only in Plymouth. So I do agree that this is very likely a Plymouth-only name! How cool is that?

Variations include using potatoes instead of pasta; adding red kidney beans and the liquid from the can; and also a version with short ribs. I love it!
I know my Dad attested to the authenticity of this recipe in matching the one served at 1620, but I also believe this soup probably took on many versions home to home. This recipe calls for linguica, but I used chouriso, which is similar, but a little spicier. I was able to make this with the real thing because my friend Art Guertin from Plymouth recently sent me a care package of Portuguese sausage. So here is the recipe as my Dad collected it, a staple in Southeastern Massachusetts, even without the Plymouth name:

Baseball Soup

1 small onion, diced
1 carrot, grated
4 Tbl. olive oil
3 cups of chicken broth
1 lb. of fresh kale, trimmed and chopped
1/2 pound of linguica, sliced and cut into half rounds
2 cloves of garlic, minced
8 oz crushed tomatoes
3/4 small dried pasta (like acini de pepe, orzo or ditalini)
1 salt
white pepper to taste

In the bottom of a heavy kettle, add oil, and saute the onions and carrots until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic, salt, chicken broth, kale and linguica. Add pepper to taste. The kale will shrink down pretty quickly.

The sausage is pork, has a very thin casing, and has a firm meat filling that has fairly noticeable bits and pieces on the interior, so if you are looking for a substitution, look for something more firm than, say, an Italian sausage, maybe more like kielbasa. Or you could get some real linguica delivered from Gaspar's in Fall River, Mass. 

Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure the kale is cooking down evenly.

In the meantime, cook the dried pasta. When the soup has simmered for 30 minutes, add the cooked pasta and the crushed tomatoes, stir, heat through and serve.

10 comments:

  1. Thanks for the information. This was particularly interesting to me because my grandmother was a cook at the 1620 when it was called the Bluebird Restaurant. She was born in New Bedford of Portuguese immigrants and made the best kale soup, which she also referred to as “Curves.” She often started with a split pea broth and a soup bone. She used vegetables in addition to the kale and either potato or macaroni but not both. Grandma also included both linguica and chourico; large pieces that she would pull out of the soup and serve separately. Thanks again for bringing back some great memories.

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  2. Thanks so much for commenting. I know we loved the 1620/Bluebird and I love the additional information you added here!

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  3. I also was born and grew up in North Plymouth and learned the Joy of Baseball soup in the fifties .. The only definitive explanation I ever heard for the term baseball soup came from a friend at the Seaside Club. He also espoused the word "Curves" as the origin . He explained that there is no word for Kale in their language. Curves (He pronounced it Curr- vess) meant cabbage. The baseball name from from young boys associating the name for the cabbage and the pitches thrown by a pitcher.

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    1. Thanks not only for the added information, but the guide to pronouncing "curves"! Isn't it funny how certain foods come into fashion like kale and it reminds us of all the old traditions again?

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  4. I was born in Plymouth, but I didn't get to enjoy this soup until I married a Portuguese man. His mom, BoBo taught me how to make this and Favish, but I never wrote the recipe for Baseball Soup and forgot how. My daughter and I loved this soup...thank God for Pinterest! It's cooking now. FYI - Publix grocery stores carry both Linguica and Chourice at very reasonable prices. Thanks again.

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  5. I was born in Plymouth, but I didn't get to enjoy this soup until I married a Portuguese man. His mom, BoBo taught me how to make this and Favish, but I never wrote the recipe for Baseball Soup and forgot how. My daughter and I loved this soup...thank God for Pinterest! It's cooking now. FYI - Publix grocery stores carry both Linguica and Chourice at very reasonable prices. Thanks again.

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    1. it is really such a great soup, and we also love linguica rolls! so glad you have a recipe you like now!

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  6. Thanks for reposting, I've been looking for this! Going to the Azores soon with my fav portagee . must cooka dah soup.

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  7. Thanks for reposting, I've been looking for this! Going to the Azores soon with my fav portagee . must cooka dah soup.

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    1. glad you saw this, this is the tried and true plymouth recipe (well, one of them :-)

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