Last Tuesday was National Soup Swap Day, and in preparation for a swap my friends Lucia and Sarah hosted, I made Smoky Winter Tomato Soup. But as I was packing my frozen bundles up for transport, it occurred to me that I’d failed to make a soup that inspired a tale (I just used what I had on hand), and everyone was due for a minute or two on stage during the Telling of the Soups.
I turned to MFK Fisher, an early funny food blogger if there ever was one, who had this to say about soups, in her essay entitled “How to Boil Water”:
The natural progression from boiling water to boiling water with something in it can hardly be avoided, and in most cases is heartily wished for. As a steady diet, plain water is inclined to make thin fare, and even saints, of which there are an unexpected number these days, will gladly agree that a few herbs and perhaps a carrot or two and maybe a bit of meager bone on feast days can mightily improve the somewhat monotonous flavor of hot liquid.
Soup, in other words, is good. […] It is is probably the oldest cooked food on the earth, after roasted meat (in spite of the great Maitre Escoffier’s dictum that “the nutritious liquids known under the name of Soups are of comparatively recent origin and as now served do not date any farther back than the early years of the nineteenth century”).
So I substituted this brief but pertinent soup history for my own soup’s weakly-flavored past. MFK goes on, on the next page, with a little sanitation advice, which perhaps I should have included, especially given one hostess’s not-so-positive recollection of her mother’s chicken noodle soup:
A great deal of misinformation has been quoted for several centuries about the delicious soup that sits for years at the back of every good French stove. It is supposed to be like old-fashioned yeast, always renewing itself and yet always stemming from the original “starter,” so that a chicken bone thrown in last Easter may long since have disappeared but will still lend its aromatic aura to the present brew.
I do not like this fiction, and prefer not to believe it. I think soup-pots should be made fresh now and then, like people’s minds at the New Year. They should be emptied and scrubbed and started over again, with clean water . . .
Not that the hostess’s mother used dirty pots. But anyway.
The Telling of the Soups, and the subsequent four rounds of soup-picking, which were not unlike NFL draft picks for those of us more interested in soup than in football, provoked much laughter and cooking-related musings. The most entertaining and revealing story involved a Souper who, after being emotionally taunted by the prospect of using a recipe her mother had stolen and used to win a trophy at a church soup contest (which stripped the Souper of all deserved pride in relation to said soup, which I have in fact tasted and which is in fact trophy-worthy), decided to create a soup and name it after a presidential candidate. Her leading contender was Barack Obama, which was to be a multicultural bean soup (vegan, of course) flavored with Illinois. But the Souper decided that a) she wasn’t sure how to incorporate Illinois into Barack Obama soup, b) she didn’t feel comfortable making her soup run for President when the swap had the potential to include so many other race-worthy contenders who wouldn’t really know they were running, and c) it really is to early in the presidential race to claim devotion to any one candidate, and she really doesn’t have a thing for Obama except that a soup of many colored beans would indeed be tasty. Plus, Kucinich has just announced his candidacy, which means that everyone will be racing to make a soup with mushrooms, which look so much like those great ears.
We will hold another Soup Swap next year, with a theme, perhaps: Soups as Presidential Candidates. Someone has already laid claim to Clinton Noodle Soup (this is not my idea), and has even figured out how to include New York in the pot. What about Soups as Action Figures? I’m channeling a gut-wrenchingly spicy Vietnamese soup named G.I. Pho.
In any event, the swapping atmosphere encouraged congeniality and friendship in an otherwise only loosely-knit circle of home cooks, and we’re going to make the swap thing a quarterly event. I may host a similarly-organized Take It Bake It event in late April, so start searching for freezable recipes!
For the record, the participants were:
Roasted Winter Squash and Chestnut Soup with Indian Spices
Potato Corn Chowder
White Chicken Chili
Hot and Sour Soup
Corn Chowder with Chicken and Bacon
Mushroom Barley Soup
Beef and Barley Soup
Not *My* Mom’s Chicken Soup
Smoky Winter Tomato Soup