For forty-five years, the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks have hosted the Winter Hike Series. Starting the first weekend in January until the end of February, thirteen parks open up their trails to folks starting their new year outside. Whether people are hiking for exercise, exploration, or just using the wonderful trails as a respite from the city, hundreds flock to the Metro Parks for the winter hike series, with the promise of a tasty cup of soup after.
Each park features its own soup, and if you are an avid hiker working to fill out your hiking card, you really are missing out if you don’t try them all. This is my second year working through the Winter Hike Series, and I felt it was my duty to dive into each bowl of soup, unearth their history, and review them, although I am completely unqualified to do so.
This blog post will cover all of the January winter hikes, with the next installment after the last winter hike.
Blacklick Woods: Minestrone
Blacklick Woods is the oldest Metro Park in our district, the first of the hikes in the Winter Hike Series and for the last two years, the coldest hike of the series. The promise of a warm bowl of soup to thaw the frost from your eyelashes and to heat your chilly fingers is enough to help get you through the first winter hike. One of the wonderful things about the Blacklick hike is that soup and hot chocolate are served inside the beech-maple lodge. Their soup of choice? Minestrone.
The origins of this soup are unknown, but I was told that Blacklick has featured the same soup since the parks started serving food at the winter hikes. The soup is cooked the morning of the hike in huge turkey fryers. What is served inside is poured into crock pots, but what is served outside is still bubbling over the fryers flame. The broth is savory, with vegetables, beans and noodles floating around the bottom. What this soup lacks in substance, it makes up for with its herb-heavy broth. The best part is that it’s easy to slurp out of a bowl. Spoons are not necessarily required, which is good when you’re having trouble with fine motor skills due to frozen fingers.
Pro Tip: Not enjoying how brothy the soup is? Throw some oyster crackers in there to thicken it up.
What it boils down to: Easy to eat. Veggies, noodles, and broth. It was very warm, and I was very cold.
Sharon Woods: White Chicken Chili
This year, the Sharon Woods hike was met with a severe snow storm. It was difficult to get out to the park, but 488 people still came out to hike the trails and get a cup of Sharon Woods’ signature soup, White Chicken Chili.
This recipe comes from Alli Shaw, a naturalist at Sharon Woods. She gave the recipe to her mother, who ended up winning a chili cook-off with it and suggested serving it at the winter hike in place of cinnamon rolls. Alli’s mother, Judy, who was a caterer, took the original recipe and changed it so that it could feed 600 people. The year before Judy passed away, Alli’s parents made the soup to serve at the winter hikes. Alli’s father continued to make the soup until 2016 and passed the ladle to Metro Parks staff member Jecy, and volunteer Ted. This year, we can thank Ted and his wife, as well as the all the other volunteers who chopped and sautéed onions, marinated and grilled chicken and baked goodies to pair with the soup!
You guys, this is good soup! It was brothy and easy to slurp up if your hands were cold. It was salty and a little spicy, really flavorful, and had a lot of substance to it. There were big thick chunks of chicken in this chili that had been grilled by volunteers before putting it into the soup. I’m personally a big fan of spicy food, and the kick from this soup was perfect. They also provide some hot sauce to take the heat level up a notch for folks who live for spicy food, which makes this white chicken chili customizable, to a point.
Pro Tip: Sharon woods volunteers make corn muffins to go with the White Chicken Chili. Sometimes these muffins are a little cold and freeze. Stick a muffin IN your chili, and stab it a few times with your spoon till it softens up.
What it boils down to: Filling, flavorful, customizable. A little spicy!
Want the Recipe? Click here: Judy's White Chicken Chili
Prairie Oaks: Chicken & Noodles
Prairie Oaks is the third hike in the series, and this year it was on a beautiful, bright, sunny day. According to Tom Cochran, the manager at Prairie Oaks, they make more and more soup every year to meet the demand of winter hikers. Their signature soup is Chicken & Noodles.
This soup is truly a fan favorite. Everyone seems to rave about the famous chicken & noodles from Prairie Oaks. When the parks started to serve food at the winter hikes, there was a question over what would be the best soup to serve. That’s when a park technician named Dave Skinner mentioned a family recipe for chicken & noodles. After a taste test, they decided that this was the soup for them! The preparations for Chicken & Noodles start days in advance. Roasters full of the ingredients are stored in the fridge overnight. Before the hike, they fire up the roasters and let the chicken & noodles cook all day in order to reach the right consistency and to get everything to absorb. The result is thick, creamy, chunky chicken and thick, soft noodles. The perfect end to a chilly winter hike. The Chicken & Noodles are hearty and flavorful.