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A China Cap and How to Use It


This cooking tool is called a China Cap and it was my grandmother’s then my mother’s and now mine.  It is a wonderful tool, used to strain soups and such.  I frequently use it when I make chicken stock.  The pestle helps me press out every drop of liquid from the bones.  But really what this is great at is making a beautiful puree.

You can still buy these at restaurant supply shops.  It is not to be confused with a chinoise, which is more delicate and made of mesh. 

I have this tool for one reason.  That reason is The Red Soup.  And though so many people talk about their grandmother’s recipes, and it begins to get corny, I’m afraid I have to admit it:  yes, this came from my grandmother. 

She was a colorful character.

My grandmother was full of extremes She was rich.  She was poor.  She was abandoned by her mother.  She had an alcoholic father.  She had three husbands, all of whom died on her.  The first—my Irish grandfather—left her a 33 year old widow with nothing.  She got a factory job to support her two kids.  The second husband was an extremely wealthy Italian contractor with big political connections.  She wore mink coats and jewels, and traveled to places like pre-Casto Cuba. 

When he died, he left her with little.  She got a job as switchboard operator in Sears.  The third husband was a retired longshoreman, at first they got on well, living in his narrow row house.  But then he was not well and she spent some years taking care of him until he died.  Despite all, way into her seventies she was still pretty, dressed flamboyantly with high heels, baubles and perfume.  She had childlike naivete.  But she also had a capacity for joy and laughter.  The husbands disappointed her.  Her favorite place seemed to be at our house. She often came three times a week and cooked for us, as my mother worked.  She loved to cook.  Did I mention she adored me? 


Well, here is the soup that goes with the china cap.  I am relieved to get it out of my notebook, where it is scrawled messily, into a place where I can share it.  We called it The Red Soup as this is the only name we have for it.  You could say that it was a poor person’s recipe because it’s just boiled vegetables, with a piece of chuck thrown in the pot.  But in my opinion the china cap offered refinement.  When it was all cooked, my grandmother removed the meat and passed the vegetables through the strainer—hard work--to make a smooth pureed consistency.  She served it with egg noodles.  Today, you’d probably use food processor or an immersion blender, rather than the china cap, and be perfectly happy with the results.

Some years ago, when I was in the eighth month of a pregnancy, my mother came over and taught me and my sister how to make the soup.  It is a bit of a long ordeal and quite messy.  When she left that day, my mother left the china cap behind to my care.  And now you know why I treasure it. 

The Red Soup

Like many family recipes, this one is imprecise, egocentric, and requires judgment.  I have written it as I witnessed it.  Someday I will codify and measure it.  But I kind of like it as it is.  Warning:  It’s a big mess.  But at least you get two dinners out of it.

2 bags soup greens (parsnips, fresh parsley, carrots, and maybe a leek) chopped into chunks, no bigger than two-inches
3 large onions, chopped
2 or 3 potatoes peeled and cut into chunks
2 large cans of crushed tomatoes
4 or 5 “nice” carrots, peeled and cut in half lengthwise to differentiate from others as these will go to the table
3 “nice” potatoes, peeled and quartered lengthwise, also differentiated from the others as these too will go to the table
4 lb piece of meat, that is a little fatty to withstand boiling, e.g. chuck or rump roast
1 1lb bag of egg noodles
salt and pepper to taste

Quantity:  Two dinners for a family of five. 

1.  Put your soup greens, onions, chunks of potatoe, and cans of tomatoes into a large stock pot.  Fill up the rest of the pot with water, but leave enough room to fit your meat and nice vegetables later.

2.  Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to a low bubble and let cook for an hour. 

3.  Add your “nice” carrots and potatoes, and then the meat.

4.  Remove your “nice” vegetables when they are done. 

5.  Continue to cook the soup until the meat is done.  (Use a meat thermometer if you are not sure.) Remove meat from the soup. You may wish to trim away some of the fat.

6.  Put on another pot of water to boil your egg noodles. 

7.  Pour all the ingredients remaining in the stock pot through the china cap or other strainer of your choice.  Use the pestle (pressing and rotating) to press the softened vegetable out through the holes into a puree, and scrape down as necessary with a spatula.  Or, put the remaning vegetables into a food processor in batches, with some of the soup and puree to achieve an almost creamy consistency.

8.  Put the soup back in the pot and keep hot, while you boil your egg noodles in the other pot. 

9.  Serve soup in bowls with noodles.  Put meat on a platter in the middle of the table, surrounded by any extra noodles, and the nice potatoes and carrots.  Slice and serve with the option of mustard for the meat. 

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Can I tell you how much I love the “nice” carrots? Or how hard I have worked on figuring out what “till it fells right” means. Till it’s “thicker” “firmer” “shinier?” To try and learn at a distance to cook by feeling. The china cap is to be treasured as the recipe. I am sure when I make it here it will not look anything like yours! But I will make sure to have “nice” carrots.

    – Claudia (February 25 2010 at 11:00)

Oh Laura - The soup sounds great, but it’s the back story that captures me. I didn’t know this was called a china cap, but I sure could use one when I make soups, rather than press things out in a mesh colander.

    – ciaochowlinda (February 26 2010 at 12:01)

Oh how I love this! Thank you for not providing any other imagery other than the China Cap. Your writing is plenty to take me everywhere I needed to go.  And now that the story telling is over I return to the soup which sounds new to me and yes, like Claudia, I will think of the “nice” carrots smile

    –  (February 26 2010 at 5:05)

How great to see that The Red Soup has been committed to print in Jellypress.  Makes me want to get out the stock pot.  You covered it all but one small reminder, please.  It was served with the option of adding grated cheese. 

    – Marcia Schenone (February 26 2010 at 6:34)

We had one of these two--my mother used it when she was canning tomatoes and applesauce, too, I think. I never really thought of using it for anything else, but I know that it worked better for tomatoes than my treasured food mill. The soup sounds divine… we will definitely try it!

    –  (February 27 2010 at 9:18)

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