When I decided to write about making soup, I Googled one word. SOUP. I was astounded by the amount of information available on this subject. The varieties alone were staggering and the historical references copious. I found that this humble food has warmly and steadfastly accompanied man and womankind’s march through time. Soup in all of its guises, broth, pottage, bisque, gumbo, chowder, consommé, stew, porridge and even gruel has found its place in the story of the human race and it’s survival.
Picture early woman, kneeling by her cook fire dropping heated rocks into a stone bowl to bring the water to a boil, carefully adding the ingredients for the cattail, tuber and mammoth stew. Techniques improved through the ages but the fact remains, all of our ancestors used the simple method of cooking grains, vegetables and meats in liquid to make----SOUP! By utilizing the ingredients found in their regions each culture added a unique adaptation, but soup making has been around for as long as watertight containers.
Soup has been used to heal the sick, comfort the old and nourish the young. It can be prepared hot or cold, thick or thin. Soup can be the first course or served up as the entire meal, as simple as consommé or as complex as bisque. Both kings and beggars have inspired it and it is appreciated by everyone.
I come from a long line of soup makers. I recall the rich goodness of my Grandmother’s chicken and dumplings and the hearty brightness of my Mom’s vegetable soup. I grew up eating my sister’s chili and I still judge all other chilies by its measure. I remember my Dad introducing us to the oddly named but deliciously exotic matzo ball soup. To not make and eat soup would never occur to me. Therefore, it surprises me when people tell me they never make soup. I think some people believe making soup is akin to practicing alchemy, that there is a wizard locked in a tower room somewhere, jealously guarding the “soup secrets.” If there is, I’ve never been introduced to him and there is not a secret soup maker handshake, as far as I know. Soup making is not mysterious, it’s just soup.
For me, it is truly a freeform and creative way of cooking. When I make soup, I regard recipes as suggestions. They serve to give me a basic list of ingredients. They recommend flavors and textures that will enhance one another. They instruct in techniques and procedures. All the rest is gleefully and freely open to my interpretation of what that soup will be. The myriad ways to combine the meats, beans, vegetables, grains, pastas, fruits and spices is at my disposal. Only the supplies in my pantry and my own imagination limit the choice. I anticipate the layering of flavors, each ingredient releasing its essence to merge with the whole, creating a new taste. There is satisfaction in striking the perfect savory or spicy note and when the rich soupy aroma envelops the house it is ambrosia.
Vegetable soup, one of the first I can remember making is still one of my favorites. It was nothing complicated, beef, tomatoes, carrots and potatoes, maybe some celery, the vegetables of my Mom’s soup. My first attempt at making chicken noodle soup created a pallid, bashful version. Today my soups are more daring, more intense and like me more mature. Over the years my taste and sense of adventure has expanded and I relish experimenting with new ingredients and techniques. The vegetable soup I made thirty-five years ago would not be recognized as the steamy concoction I give that name to today and that too, is the beauty of soup. The endless combinations, the forgivingness of accuracy and the adaptability of soup are the things that make it so appealing.
Don’t be afraid to dive into the soup pot. Making soup is a joyful, liberating and warm expression of your own creativity that can be enthusiastically shared with your family and friends.
Diana for the Poplar Grove Muse