Soup weather has arrived. What does that mean? It means cold nights and chilly days, downright miserable by Gulf Coast standards. That’s the perfect weather for soup in general, that warm-you-from-the-inside stuff we love. Canned soup just won’t do, with its bland broth and high sodium content. It’s the season for real, homemade soup.
When we think of soup in my family, the kind of soup we usually make is referred to as “stone soup.” This remnds us all of the story of stone soup, which I’ll repeat to you now, at least in one of its versions.
Once upon a time, long, long ago, a traveler came into a small town. Tired, hungry and poor, he had no money to buy any food. He stopped at the baker’s shop and asked him for some left over bread, but the baker chased him away.
He tried the butcher with the same results, and the grocer was no more helpful. At the local café, he once again tried his luck, and once again, he was chased off of the property with nothing to eat. The last shop on the street was a junk store owned by a poor old woman, and she earned a meager living from selling other folks’ cast offs.
From her, he acquired a battered old pot, and at the park in the town’s center, he built a fire from fallen branches and put a pot of water on the fire to heat up. Some boys who had been taunting him earlier came to see what he was doing, and watched curiously as he dropped a small rock into the pot.
“What are you doing?” asked one boy.
“I’m making stone soup,” replied the tired traveler.
“What’s that?” asked another boy.
“This small stone will make a whole pot of soup,” said the traveler. “I’ll share with you, too!”
The boys thought the man was crazy, but they continued watching as he began to sniff the pot.
“Hmm, this sure smells good,” said the man. “But…it would be a whole lot better with a bit of salt and pepper in it…”
One of the boys who lived nearby went and got him a bit of salt and pepper, and the traveler added it to the pot.
He stirred the pot, and sniffed deeply.
“Wow, that sure smells good,” he said. “But, it would taste a whole lot better with a handful of beans. Too bad I don’t have any.”
“I think we have some beans at home,” said another boy. “I can bring you a few.”
So the boy brings him a handful of beans, which the traveler then adds to the pot. By now, a few of the townspeople have gotten curious, and have gathered nearby. The traveler stirred the pot and sniffed deeply of the steamy brew, and sighed.
“This sure smells good, but it would be a whole lot better with a potato added in,” he said.
Someone gave him a potato that had spilled from a sack, and he cut that up and added it to the pot of boiling water.
He stirred the pot again, and sniffed deeply in appreciation.
“Wow,” he said. “This smells so good! Even so, it would be better with a bit of onion…”
A few minutes later, someone gave him an onion, and he cut that up and added it to the soup, stirring and sniffing in appreciation.
“You know, as good as this smells, it really should have a few more vegetables added in,” he sighed. “Be a shame to not have any to add to it.”
Before long, he added a carrot, a cabbage, a couple of potatoes, and a piece of onion. More people showed up, and he added a piece of a pepper, some celery, and more carrots. Still he stirred, and the pot steamed away, truly sending an appealing aroma into the sky
“You know,” said the traveler thoughtfully. “This soup sure smells good, but it would taste a lot better with a bit of meat to add to it. Maybe a piece of chicken, or some beef trimmings? Just a little bit to give it extra flavor. Even some leftover sausage would make it mighty tasty.”
Before long, he had a little bit of different kinds of meats and sausage to add to the pot, small pieces leftover from the midday meal or from preparing their evening meals. The traveler stirred it, and sniffed it appreciatively. He would have a full belly tonight, despite the people being such miserly characters when he had asked for food.
True to his word, he shared his bounty with the boys and with the villagers who had denied him food earlier.
The moral of this version is that by contributing just a little bit, when it’s all put together, it becomes enough to share.
Stone soup is made just that way, there is no set recipe, but rather it is made from bits and pieces on hand. A leftover pork chop, a piece of uneaten fried chicken, a breakfast sausage patty, a couple of potatoes, a bit of onion, a stalk of celery, and a small bowl of leftover peas might be one version, whereas another week it might be stew meat, onions, tomatoes, carrots, and green beans.
When using leftovers for soup, remove breading from meats—it doesn’t translate well in the soup. Remove any bones, and chop or break the meat into small pieces. Look at your vegetables—are any of them getting that “tired” look? Use them in the soup! Bell peppers, onions, celery, squash, cabbage, tomatoes, spinach, carrots, parsnips, and green beans can all land in the pot. Remember to cook the soup sufficiently to cook the vegetables.