*Disclaimer: The story you are about to read is simple and straightforward. It is not meant to tax your brain with a deep and thoughtful message and keep you up all night searching for a second hidden meaning. It is only meant to prompt you to smile and to encourage you to make and enjoy some soup.
We have special bowls and crocks for it. There is a fancy named serving piece in which to hold it when on the dining room table and there are designated pieces of silverware to transfer it to our bowls and then into our mouths.
What is it about this warm liquid that triggers memories, soothes us on a cold winter day, and tempts us to buy tiny, salty crackers to sprinkle upon its surface and watch them float like miniature buoys? Hungry people devastated by poverty patiently stood in line during the Great Depression to receive this hot, generous nutrient. In 1929, “soup kitchens” got their official start as local communities opened up places to feed the homeless and displaced community members and to give them a sense of hope.
The popular television sitcom, Seinfeld, even devoted a whole episode to it, “The Soup Nazi”, and from it came a memorable title character based on the serving of this special liquid.
“He’s not a Nazi. He just happens to be a little eccentric. Most geniuses are.” (Kramer, in “The Soup Nazi”)
The great thing about soup is that anyone can make it and you really can’t mess it up. If the consistency is too thick, simply add more liquid. If it is too watery, throw in some more ingredients and a little flour. If it is too salty, toss in a piece of raw potato to absorb the sodium. It can be custom made to meet the needs of all types of diets—vegetarian, vegan, low-salt, low-calorie, you name it! Healing powers have even been suggested to come from homemade chicken soup and several national food chains feature an assortment of soups as their main item.
I learned about soup from my mother. I swear that she could make this delicious winter staple out of just about anything. The turkey carcass from Thanksgiving always went into the large soup pot on the stove where it simmered with the leftover vegetables and various unknown entries. She even once took the remains of a prime rib dinner and came up with an incredible beef and barley concoction. I loved when we had ham because I knew that the remaining bone was going to soon make friends with dried green peas, diced carrots and onions. Later after simmering quietly, she gave a few hearty spins of her trusty Foley Food mill and out came the best split pea and ham soup that I have ever eaten. It seems that soup was the second cousin to a good meal in our home.
However nothing is perfect and I do recall one clinker. I always felt that Mom was the precursor to Martha Stewart. Her ingenuity and ease in the kitchen set the bar very high for her daughters. But, one late fall Sunday evening, she went way out on a limb and served her newest recipe in a manner that she felt would cleverly highlight its ingredients. A warm, creamy pumpkin puree with a hint of nutmeg and hunks of cooked sausage was presented in an actual carved-out raw pumpkin. The lid with the attached dried out stem kept in the steamy dinner and it was the first natural tureen that I had ever seen. Focusing more on the orange globe, I had trouble enjoying its content. All I kept thinking about was last Halloween’s jack o’ lantern and the memory of the musty odor of the pumpkin flesh filled my sensitive nostrils and kept me from appreciating her creation.
It must be in our DNA. My mother’s mother was also a “souper”. I have never had clam chowder like my Nana made. Sitting in a rocking chair on the wrap-around front porch of her Connecticut beach cottage, she first scooped the tiny mollusks out of their gray shells into a large bowl in her lap while rocking and humming away. Fresh raw clams, water, finely diced potatoes and small pieces of onion and salt and pepper were the only ingredients that I remember watching her put into the large dented pot. I couldn’t wait for dinner when I got to slurp my portion from my bowl and see the familiar tiny grains of sand at the bottom of my dish swirl around in a funny pattern. It was the real deal.
“A first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting.” (Abraham Maslow)
So, I naturally am drawn to soup. Instead of using my big soup pot, I usually bring out my slow cooker to do the work for me when I am working and away from home. I never use a recipe and the results vary according to the ingredients that I have on hand. My children started to refer to me as “crock pot Sally” because in the winter “the pot” made at least one weekly appearance and treated us to an abundance of great soups.
Besides warming our stomachs, soups can nurture our souls and bring people together. Huddled around a table, diners lean forward with tilted heads making an invitational gesture for the warm liquid with opened mouths, while at the same time engaging in close conversation. It is almost impossible not to follow up with a muffled guttural sound coming from deep in the back of our throats as our lips smack together on the outside, keeping the soup from trickling out like the overflow of a leaky spigot.
It is not surprising that the Campbell Soup Company is the world’s leading maker and marketer of soup. In 1900, Campbell’s soups won the Gold Medallion for excellence at the Paris Exposition, and since then they proudly feature a miniature version of that prize on their labels. Many generations are familiar with its red and white labels. In addition, the company was very clever to employ the logical response to its product, “M’m! M’m! Good…”, and first used it in 1931 as their advertising slogan. Soup lovers often quote it.
So tell me, are you a “souper”? Do you like to create your own soup or do you just enjoy someone else’s” Do you have a special recipe that you would like to share? Do I have you thinking about your next bowl of soup?
Well, my crock pot is steaming and pretty soon in our house… soup’s on!
Can we all say,”M’m! M’m! Good.”?