Con artists or creative merchandisers?
One of my favorite children's stories is called "Stone Soup" or some variation thereof. The premise of the story is that several travelers arrive in a village carrying an empty pot, and when they find the residents unwilling to share food with them, they fill the pot with water, put a stone in it, and set it to boiling over a fire in the village square.
Intrigued, the villagers cannot resist asking the travelers about this strange activity, and are informed that the visitors are making a delicacy called "stone soup." They are also told that the soup would taste even better with a bit of this and that added for extra flavor. Word spreads, and eventually the whole village is involved in adding a bit of vegetable, meat or seasoning to the pot, until the "stone soup" becomes a savory meal to be shared by everyone, travelers and villagers alike. I don't know if they all lived happily ever after, but at least for that day, they did not go to bed hungry.
Every little bit helps
There are at least two things that I take from this story. First, we probably shouldn't have to be tricked into sharing our food with people who are hungry, especially when pooling, even scarce resources, can go a long way to helping those in need.
The travelers in the story may or may not have been con artists, but nothing is ever lost by sharing what we have with those who have nothing. In this case, everyone ended up better off than they would have been on their own.
World hunger is one of the problems we can do something about, even if we only have a little bit to give, because when we put our little bit with other peoples' little bits, we can, as with the stone soup, feed a lot of hungry people.
Is it soup yet?
The other element of this story that captures my imagination is how it describes, in a whimsical way, the art of soup making. Like Leslie Newman, in the quote above, when the weather starts cooling down and the autumn winds start to blow, my menu plans often revolve around a warm, nourishing soup served with crusty bread. It is probably one of the easiest, most economical, and creative dishes you can make, and it comes in infinite varieties.
A little bit of this, a little bit of that
I don't recommend that you begin making soup with a stone, but, whether you start with leftover vegetable or meat stock, a ham bone, the last bits of the chicken or turkey, lentils, split peas or whatever you have on hand, you can build a delicious concoction that will be warm and satisfying. Along the way, you can add a little bit of this and that, as the villagers in the story did, using those stragglers from your vegetable bin and trying some of those herbs and spices that are growing on your windowsill or sitting unused in your spice rack.
--Start making soup with a larger pot than you think you will need, so that you can add ingredients to your heart's content.
--You can try making soup by modifying a recipe, using what you have on hand to replace or enhance the ingredients listed. With experience, you will be able to be more creative, since you will have an easier time predicting the results.
--Soups almost always taste better the next day. Overnight, the flavors will develop and become richer and more full-bodied.
--Add a little seasoning at a time. You can always add more, but it's almost impossible to undo too much.
--Although the best soups are made with fresh ingredients and homemade stock, you can take a shortcut by using packaged ingredients, such as stock and vegetables. Be sure to pick a good quality brand, organic if possible.
--When you warm up cream soups, don't bring to a boil. Heat until very warm, but not hot.
--Refrigerate leftovers in small containers as soon as possible to avoid spoilage, and use within 4 or 5 days. Most soups freeze well, and can be thawed and served at a later date when you don't have time to prepare a meal.
Making soup is one of my favorite cooking activities. I think of it almost as an art form, although it speaks more of palate than palette. In this artistic endeavor, the "medium" is a variety of fresh, colorful ingredients and the technique involves combining flavors and textures until you have achieved a fragrant and nutritious classic for your family to enjoy.
Even if you don't live in a climate where the autumn winds blow cold, I hope you will enjoy making your own version of "stone soup" sometime soon.
At the same time, bring your "little bit to the pot" to help alleviate world hunger.
Enjoy making soup with my warmest regards,