Winter Hike Soup Reviews: Part 1

An Unofficial Guide to the Winter Hike Soups

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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.

Thick, chicken-y, and noodle-y.  A fan favorite!

To be honest, I didn’t get to try the Chicken & Noodles the day of the hike.  The folks at Prairie Oaks actually said that they would make me a batch if I wanted to come out and try it, which is possibly one of the nicest things anyone has ever offered me.  Truly, food is the way to my heart.  However, I declined the offer in exchange for the recipe so I could make it myself.  I’m pretty sure that it came out correctly because it was DELICIOUS and I now completely understand the hype.

What it boils down to: Thick, chickeny, and noodley.  A fan favorite!

Want the recipe? Click Here: Skinner's Famous Chicken and Noodles

Scioto Audubon: Chicken & Wild Rice, Vegetable with Beef Broth

The winter hike at Scioto Audubon, for the last two years, has been greeted with beautiful weather. When I was in school, we studied the old impound lot and its transition from brownfield to beautiful, usable green space, so this park has a special place in my heart.  While standing inside the Grange Insurance Audubon Center, I watched the cars file in, one after another, to hike in a park overlooking the skyline of our city.  In the meantime, the smell of soup filled the air.  Scioto Audubon actually features two soups, Chicken & Wild Rice and Vegetable with Beef Broth.

According to assistant manager Chris Delgrosso, the Chicken and Wild Rice soup is “one of the finest soups you will find east of the Mississippi.”  He might be right!   This soup was really good.  The soup was creamy, with chunks of chicken, carrots, onions and celery.  It was well spiced, and thick, thanks to the wild rice that gave wonderful texture to every bite.  This soup will stick to your ribs after a hike through the park, warm you up, and really keep you full.  

The other soup featured at Scioto Audubon is Vegetable with Beef Broth.  It was salty, and warm.  Something great to help thaw after the hike, but really does beg for a little something more.  Luckily, Scioto Audubon provides oyster crackers to put in this soup, and it really makes this soup great!

Pro Tip: They also had s’mores outside, which was wonderful since it was such a nice day!

What it boils down to: The Chicken & Wild Rice is fantastic soup.  It’s hearty, creamy, and filling.  The Vegetable & Beef Broth soup is fine, as long as you stick some crackers in it to fill out the soup a little more.  

Inniswood: Chili

According to Metro Parks lore, Inniswood was the very first Metro Park that started the tradition of serving food during a winter hike.  The original recipe was provided by the husband of Janet Whithers, who was a chef.  After the winter hikes started getting more popular and there were more hikers coming to Inniswood, volunteers started to make the chili using his original recipe.  Though I personally don’t know when this tradition started, it has been going strong for more than 20 years, and possibly right after Inniswood opened up for the first winter hike.  

Inniswood features beef, venison, and veggie chili.  I was only able to taste the beef chili, but it was wonderful. This chili was warm and hearty with lots of peppers, beans, celery, and tomatoes interspersed with the ground beef.  It was flavorful, but not spicy, which I can understand… not everyone has the same spice tolerance.  

The veggie chili, though I didn’t get to taste it, looked fantastic.  There were lots of beans and veggies, and looked just as hearty as the beef or venison chili did.  

This soup is another favorite of winter hikers, and we can thank the Inniswood volunteers for all of the help preparing and serving soup, as well as making baked goods for all of the winter hikers.

What it boils down to: Great chili, vegetarian options, and delicious cookies.  Another fan favorite!

Want the recipe? Click Here: Almost Famous Inniswood Chili

Clear Creek: Ham & Bean

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Before the Winter Hike Series got really big, Clear Creek used to serve venison chilli at their winter hikes.  For a while, they kept trying to make chilli but the crowd quickly became too large and the soup too expensive to make.  So they switched to a delicious and cost-effective Ham & Bean soup.

In years past, Marty Shull’s mother would make the Ham & Bean soup, but this year it was up to the park staff and volunteers to feed 800 people that came out to Clear Creek for the winter hike.

I love this soup.  It is just perfect simplicity.  Ham base and great northern beans make up the soup, which fills the barn next to the park office with a smoky, salty smell and makes it a cozy little spot to relax and recharge after taking on the hills at Clear Creek.  After getting a big spoonful of beans and broth, you can add chopped onions which give a nice satisfying crunch to the otherwise soft beans, adding texture and some of that oniony sweetness.  They also offer corn muffins, which you can eat separate, or drown in the ham broth to thicken up the soup.  

Pro Tip: Drown the corn muffins in the broth and eat it with the soup after you’ve fished out the beans.

What it boils down to: One of my personal favorite soups.  Full of salt and carbs, it’s a great way to replenish yourself after the difficult trails at Clear Creek.  Definitely worth the drive!

Stay tuned for the next installment of Soup Review, which will be published after the last winter hike.  

Keep hiking, stay warm, and eat some soup!