Yum. I had just finished a bowl of delicious lentil soup, and I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, smiling with satisfaction. In the previous few weeks several friends had brought soup over as I was getting back on my feet after surgery. I was humbled both by their generosity and by the utter deliciousness of their soups.
I noticed different qualities of these soups that brought me great joy. The first is the selection of ingredients. Some vegetable-type soups had a grand array of colorful vegetables, chopped into squares and circles and semi circles. Some had rice, others had pasta, adding to the variety of shapes. But all of the soups had that amazing quality of variety of flavor, shape and consistency that makes every mouthful a delight.
Some soups were thick and rich like stews. They felt like centuries-old recipes from ancestors which keep families alive through cold winters-big chunks of meat, potatoes, and the hearty feel of a meal in a bowl.
Other soups were light and broth-like. Made with vegetable or chicken stock, these soups carried fewer big chunks of meat, but had more music in the broth. Each spoonful hunted for a piece of mushroom or chunk of tomato, and the broth melted parmesean cheese to add that chewy protein texture to the elixir.
Soups that show caring
From Wikipedia, the old story of Stone Soup
"Some travellers come to a village, carrying nothing more than an empty cooking pot. Upon their arrival, the villagers are unwilling to share any of their food stores with the hungry travellers. Then the travellers go to a stream and fill the pot with water, drop a large stone in it, and place it over a fire. One of the villagers becomes curious and asks what they are doing. The travellers answer that they are making "stone soup", which tastes wonderful, although it still needs a little bit of garnish to improve the flavour, which they are missing. The villager does not mind parting with a few carrots to help them out, so that gets added to the soup. Another villager walks by, inquiring about the pot, and the travellers again mention their stone soup which has not reached its full potential yet. The villager hands them a few potatoes to help them out. Another villager goes by and offers a little bit of seasoning to help them out. More and more villagers walk by, each adding another ingredient. Finally, a delicious and nourishing pot of soup is enjoyed by all."
No two soups were the same. And each one showed care and affection, and an aptitude for turning a variety of ingredients into a life-affirming meal after cleaning, chopping, and cooking on a stove. I could feel the hands of the cook offering the soothing gifts, and every single one was heavenly.
So even though it is summer, when we often avoid spending hours in a kitchen working over a stove, soups create a magnificent meal, every bite full of appreciation for the work that went into bringing it to life.
The word soup is also used as a metaphor at times. When our summer began, we were in a weather pattern that brought us hot, muggy air and rain every day. For some, it was heavenly, a direct opposite of a frigid winter. Others disliked daily rain, or constantly sweaty brows. Pollen was a problem for many with breathing allergies, and the thick air made it tough to breathe for a lot of people in general. More than once or twice I heard people refer to the air as summer soup. Full and thick and moist like a jungle, our air felt like it belonged somewhere way south of here. And then, one day, the pattern changed, the new air was more crisp and less humid, and no one called it soup anymore.
Stone soup -?Saranac Lake style
Another view of soup comes with a flashback to an old fable from childhood called Stone Soup. (see sidebar) This old fable rang in my ears on Saturday as we drove around Saranac Lake during the town-wide garage sale. We enjoy a round or two of garage sale hunting every summer. Often we are just visiting the sellers and seeing what types of things they have decided to part with rather than buying additional lamps or end tables we do not really need. So Saturday we began with the approach to town, stopping at every other location to see what folks were offering. Some sites were wonderful, with a great variety of odds and ends, some cool books, tools, furniture and athletic equipment. Others were not so flush but had great variety of clothing or kitchen supplies. We stopped at the Civic Center, and we stopped at the farmers market, where many tables of sellers were assembled. And as we visited the houses on the back side of Mount Pisgah, and the houses on French Hill, and the houses along the streets of the village, I feltan overwhelming sense of abundance.
Saranac Lake had created a stone soup of garage sales ... one mighty day full of everything anyone could want, contributed by locals, scattered among the homes and along the streets of the community. Folks offering the sales were cheerful and welcoming. Items for sale ranked from the expensive and obscure to the cheap and necessary-for-new-apartments materials buyers were looking for. There was something for everyone in this grand community gesture.
It was a different kind of soup, for sure. But I'm betting that more than a hundred folks worked for us that day, adding their "stuff" to the soup and giving us a fun day of bargain hunting. I thank the organizers of this event and all the folks who put their day on hold to provide us with this entertainment, and for many, new-to-us items we happily brought home.
And here's another thank you ... to those who have made real soups from their kitchens for friends who are under the weather to those who have chopped and boiled and stirred for friends and family ... and to all those out there who know the gifts of a great bowl of soup.
Randy Lewis lives in Paul Smiths, and is the author of "Actively Adirondack: Reflections of Mountain Life in the 21st Century," Adirondack Center for Writing's People's Choice Award for Best Book 2007.