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True Soup Confessions

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Sarah on soup traditions:

As a child we didn't have a lot of money but I didn't find out about that until I was a grown woman. Twice a week my mother would make soup and fresh bread. One would be a creamy bean and ham hock or a split pea with bacon. The other would be a hearty veggie with barley and hamburger. Now I have a family of my own, we are much better off than I was growing up but we still have soup night once a week.

Frieda of San Francisco on Mom's Chicken Soup:

During a cold, windy, rainy week several Decembers ago, I was taking a class to learn a complex piece of software. I'd caught a chill going to and from the train, and was catching a cold.

During a break, I got a cup of tea and joked that I was going to make a big pot of chicken soup with rice when I got home--it was my German mother's cure all.

A gentleman sitting nearby turned and said "That's Jewish Penicillin! My mother always made it when we were sick. Make sure you use plenty of garlic...And chicken feet, if you can get them. They give the stock a nice yellow color."

A Chinese woman turned around and said "Oh! Chicken soup is an old Chinese cure. You fry a chopped up onion, add a big chicken leg, and fresh ginger--use a piece about as long as your thumb and chop it up really fine. Cover it all with water, boil for an hour and eat it while it's very hot. It's so easy my 10-year-old daughter makes it for me when I'm feeling sick. But remember--you have to use the ginger!"

My study partner, an Indian woman, gave us a strange look. "That's funny. In India, it was a big deal to make chicken soup when we were sick. We used lots of onions too--and lots of spices."

An African American gentleman started laughing. "My mother sure didn't make Jewish Pennicillin, but that man's got it right--you need chicken feet. And root vegatables."

By the end of the break, people of at least 8 nationalities were proudly claiming Chicken Soup as their country's cure for the common cold, their mother's Chicken Soup recipe as being the best, and busily sharing recipes.

Lots of programs try to unify people of different origins. No discovery I've seen ever surpassed this one: The unifying factor among all people is Mom's Chicken Soup.

Carla Yamauchi of Tucson, Arizona:

Christmas Eve, in the early '80's, forget exactly what year. I was newly divorced, and, along with a friend, had decided to invite all the unattached folks we knew to a Christmas supper. Somehow the day wore on, with house cleaning and tea drinking. By the time we headed for the store, akkkk!, it was closed. ALL the stores were closed! What to do, everyone is expecting a gourmet masterpiece from the 'great cooks' in the group. We started rummaging in our refrigerators and cupboards. "All we can make is soup", we said. So, two soups were set to simmer, and we were complimented on the comfort food, everyone saying how much they love to eat soup. It was a Christmas dinner that everyone still remembers!

Sir Ronald E. Tober (Dutch and American singer/entertainer Ronnie Tober):

My name is Ronnie Tober and I was born on the 21st of April, 1945 in Bussum, the Netherlands. At age 3 my mother and father moved to Albany, New York. After my schooling I moved back to the Netherlands, where I just had my 40th anniversery in Show Business. I was Knighted by our Queen Beatrix. In 1948 when we sailed with the New Amsterdam from the Holland America Line, I learned to enjoy soup! I ate soup three times a day. Everybody else was sea sick. But me at three enjoyed the only thing, SOUP! While I was visting your site, I read the recipe from Mrs Marylou Whitney Vanderbilt. Her Solid Soup. I make it all the time for all my guests when they come to visit me! If you would like to know more about me, you can visit my websites. www.tober.nl or www.ronnietoberfoundation.nl I still love soup and mostly the Solid Soup of Marylou Whitney Vanderbilt.

Tomás Gonzales' exquisitely written family stories will have you laughing...and crying:

STORY THE FIRST: As a soup mavin, I would like to share with you a family story. A story about my mother's half of the family. Although I am a "Gonzales", I am actually half Dutch and half Mexican. My maternal great grandparents emigrated to the United States from Holland early in the last century. My father, whose parents were born in Mexico, migrated north in search of "greener pastures" than he had known in southern Texas and when he met my mother settled down among her family. All this is to explain why I am qualified to tell you about a combination of "Dutch humor" and soup.

Dutch humor has a scatological side to it. My grandmother was fond of such sayings as, "Someone who cooks carrots and peas (pees) in the same pot is unsanitary." This aside, pea soup was always a favorite. No ham bone was ever discarded before it had served to enrich a pot of "snet" (as pea soup was always referred to by it's Dutch name).

When my great grandmother passed away, my mother found among her household items some rather elegant, old chamber pots from the days when indoor plumbing was still something of a novelty. Or, as my grandmother said, "When beds had both a canopy over them and a can o' pee under them." My mother thought that the old, covered commodes could yet be of some use.

It was not long thereafter, at a large family gathering for Sunday dinner, that my mother paraded into the dining room with a beautiful, lidded tureen containing the soup du jour. When she lifted the lid. there was not just everyday pea soup, but snet with pieces of sausage floating in it! The soup was delicious, but the old timers who were privy to the joke certainly also got a taste of their own medicine that day.

And so a family tradition in serving soup was born.

STORY THE SECOND: NEW YEAR'S DAY MENUDO

I think that it is only fair to give my father's side, the Mexican side of my family, equal time and equal credit for their sense of humor and their soup.

Although I was raised in the lands explored by Hendrik Hudson rather than Cabeza de Vaca, our family made regular visits to see my tejano relatives when I was a child.

Food was always a central feature of our family reunions. Aside from the ever-present tortillas and clay pot of hot beans, every house call was an occasion for enjoying or preparing something special to eat. On Christmas visits I might spend a whole afternoon with my Tia Nena making fried dough cookies or two or three days with the entire family, everyone engaged in some part of the elaborate preparation of enough tamales to feed the whole church congregation. If it was believed that, "you are what you eat", then it must have been the determination of my aunts and uncles to make a true Mexican out of their blonde nephew that brings back so many delicious memories.

It happened on one visit that the grown-ups decided to ring in the new year south of the border. My Tia Esther made plans for us to visit her father-in-law who lived in old Mexico. "We're going to see the Mayor of Monterey," she told us. After the long, long, dusty ride and after encountering such scenes of poverty along the way, it was like Coronado's vision of a city of gold when at last we saw the grand, towering edifice that was the City Hall of Monterey. "As guests of the Mayor, who also lives here," my aunt announced, "this is were we will be sleeping tonight." I could no more imagine it possible than the amazed Cortes when he found himself invited to the Palace of Montezuma, but indeed, it was true.

In spite of having just celebrated New Years Eve the night before, we rose before dawn so as to attend an early church service. It was immediately apparent that we were not the first to get out of bed. The air in the apartment was filled with an aroma that grew richer and thicker as we approach the kitchen where we found the Mayor of the City of Monterey ladling out bowls of soup and setting them around the table. "It is a tradition to have menudo for breakfast on New Year's Day," explained my uncle on behalf of his father, the Mayor, who spoke only Spanish. He went on to describe how menudo is made with tripe and chilies, but beyond that I can only recall that what went into that eye-opening, culinary awakening was hours of preparation. While we had been sleeping, the leading citizen of the city, the Mayor of Monterey himself, had been working for hours and hours alone in the night that we might be filled with the warmth of his hospitality as the sun rose for the first time on a bright and shining new year.

Many years later, when I was recalling how once I had tasted what it was like to be received like royalty by a person of power and influence, I was informed that he had been "just the janitor", that it all had been a joke played on a child and nothing of what I said was as I remembered. But my tongue did not deceive me when I first sipped the savory flavor of menudo. I tell you it was wonderful, and I know its true.

John hits a nerve with a story somewhat familiar to all too many:
Perhaps the babysitter was new, but as you may agree after reading this, she wasn't invited back. I was 11-ish or so, my sisters one and two years younger. Our parents were out for the afternoon and the sitter was going nuts. None of us were getting along (there were several others besides the three oldest at the time). What to do? A cooking contest. The field of struggle? Soup. And what soups! I tried the vegetable version, raiding the refrigerator for all of the bits and scraps. Moldy? I don't remember, but I'd be surprised if some wasn't. My sisters went for a tomato base. They cheated and used Campbell's Creamy and then added hot dogs and rice. They didn't realize the soup was concentrated or that rice took a while to cook and if overdone was quite nasty. Meanwhile I chopped and fed the pot. Stock? Never heard of it. Cooking time? It's hot, isn't that enough? The taste? Perhaps if cooked until the veggies were al dente, it would have been edible. The ! mess? Still there when mom got home. The babysitter? Never saw her again. She wasn't the worst, though. One locked me out of the house. Maybe the problem wasn't the sitters?
Annie Napier, on Unexpected Soup of the Garbage Variety:
Somebody at the office decided to order a veggie tray from the local supermarket for some kind of ditzy celebration. Stuff is left over at the end of the day. There is always some of the icky dip left, all of the now-limp curly greens, some little tomatoes, "baby" carrots, celery, cauliflower florets, broccoli florets, and cucumber slices.

You take the leftovers home. With or without the tray. Toss the tray. Toss the dip. Wet the cucumber slices and eat with salt and pepper while making soup thusly:

In a 5-6 quart heavy stockpot, fill half-way with fresh, cold water. Add some sea salt, coarse-ground pepper, and tellicherry peppercorns. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the 2 big soup bones you've had in the freezer since last winter. (If the soup bones aren't meaty, add a teaspoon of OXO instant beef bouillon. You also might want to put in a couple Knorr Vegetable bouillon cubes.) Add all of the broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery and tomatoes. Wash the greens well, remove the spines and tear them into the pot. Add cup rolled barley flakes (Bob's Red Mill has a superb product) Add a teaspoon or so of your frozen bacon drippings. Chop a medium onion and add to the pot along with a large garlic clove, minced. Sprinkle some GOOD paprika on top and whatever other seasonings you like. Cavender's works well as does Fortner's (but not #37).

Boil for an hour or more, partially covered. Remove the soup bones and scoop out the marrow. Add the marrow back to the soup. Serve and enjoy!

Thing is, I putz around in the kitchen for enjoyment. If I make something that tastes good, later I try to remember how I did it so I can write it down. That is how this kind of stuff happens. Then, when I can't sleep and am over-processing the day's events, I remember things I left out of the recipe. Whenever I give up on sleep, I drag my tired old body to the 'puter and add the stuff I forgot. Usually end up tidying it up, too, and doing a spell-check.

Audrey Lewis:
My love of soup ranges from 1931 & coffee soup through late 30's when even soup bones demanded a coupon from our Ration Book (have you ever made or eaten real live turtle soup?)

The early 40's & my fathers recipe for soup always started with his friend Orville & a case of quarts (Pabst) & grew from there.

The latter half of the 40's a lucky job made me a food checker at the Harrisburg Hotel, Hbg.Pa.
Staff: 20
1. Coleman baker who started 2am
2. Leroy the butcher (prime only by the side to be aged by him)
3. 50gal stock pots sporting chicken feet & a beef pot crowned with egg shells.
Steward, Pantry, Fry cooks plus a 4star chef Robert Lea. (most wonderful job I ever had)

Soup & memories. All good.

Jaimi, from New Smyrna Beach, Florida:
My grandparents grew up in what was Transylvania--that's the truth! They came to America in the early 1900's and met and settled in Bridgeport, Conn. As my Aunt said, they were poor but never hungry. My grandmother worked the soil and my grandfather was a craftsman...a cabinet maker. Fabulous work....that is where I get my mechanical skills from I am pretty sure. The recipe my grandmother passed down is no big deal really, but it was apparently the staff of life for my dads' family when they were growing up. Back then they wasted nothing. It all went into cabbage soup! If they boiled a ham, the broth and bone went to Cabbage soup, same with chicken or beef although beef was sort of scarce then. There really never was a recipe for this soup as it changed everytime it was cooked....like my meatloaf :)...But here is the start of it:
  • 1 Cabbage, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cubed potatoes
  • chicken or ham stock enough to cover ingredients
Simmer till tender, thicken with roux.
M. Haase, soupsong reader from Kentucky:
A newly married friend called to tell me that she seemed to be having problems in making her soup one afternoon. She wanted her husband to be surprised, but she was perplexed by the fact that the plastic spoon she used for stirring the soup seemed to be getting smaller and smaller. I told her not to worry ... her husband would be surprised! (This was in the 60s, when plastic spoons must not have been very hardy ... and it's a true story except for the part where I told her not to worry ...)
Marilyn, soupsong reader from Reno, Nevada:
One day my mother had a the pressure cooker on the stove and it was steaming at full force. Then she had to leave the house for a few mintues to run up to the store...you can probably guess the rest of this story.... While she was out, suddenly the top of the pressure cooker shot off and hot pea soup was shooting out of the cooker! My sister and I ran around in a panic, and managed to get the pressure cooker under control with a big towel...when mom got back there was pea soup everywhere---including green soup dripping down from the ceiling! After the frenzy, all we could do was laugh, and clean up the mess! Although, mom didn't see the humor in it for some reason.
Jeff, soupsong reader:
I was eating in a Chinese buffet when two big, fratboyish guys sat at the table next to me. I overheard one of them say, "Yeah, I was thinkin' of startin' off with maybe some soup. But what am I, a fag or somethin'?"
Laura, soupsong reader:
I understand there is something about making soup that is relaxing. I used to date a guy who loved to cook, and his tactic for keeping me out of his cooking was to put a pot of soup on the stove and I would stir and fiddle. I did not even know he was doing this for years.