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June Brides and Wedding Soup
(e-SoupSong 2: June 1, 2000)
ONCE UPON A TIME, there were no June brides...nor May ones either, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. Why? Because in agrarian societies, there was work to be done then, planting and cultivating the fields. Ovid noted "Mense malum Maio nubvere vulgus ait" (Common folk say ‘tis ill to wed in May). Then again, "they that wive between sickle and scythe, shall never thrive."
Weddings were for the fall and winter, after the harvest was in—which is likely why hot wedding soups became traditional fare in many cultures. Baby, it was cold outside…and dark. Granaries were full; animals were back in the barn. Bachelors and maids alike turned their thoughts toward domestic comforts. In China, marriage was thought best at the first new moon of the year; in Scotland and Ireland, "Marry when the year is new,/Always loving, always true"; in Japan, the 10th, 11th, and 12th lunar months; in England and Germany, wait for the harvest moon; and in ancient Greece and Italy, winter or late autumn.
These old customs are hardly remembered in today’s age of industrialized agriculture and global agritrade. June weddings seem natural, since they follow school graduations and signal the beginning of the worklife. But traditional wedding soups continue to be brought steaming to the table no matter what the temperature outside.
A MISCELLANY OF WEDDING SOUPS AROUND THE WORLD, alphabetically
CHINA includes a number of soups in its typically lavish wedding banquets, including shark fin soup and bird’s nest soup. But its traditional one—the one that ensures many children—is a sweetened almond and lotus seed soup, memorably captured in Ang Lee’s charming and hilarious film "Hsi Yen" or "The Wedding Banquet" (see below).
Then there are a number of variations in FRANCE, depending on the region. In PERIGORD, it’s called Bouillon de Noce--a hearty soup of 4 kinds of meat (veal knuckle, beef, a stuffed chicken, and turkey) plus carrots, celery, Swiss chard, and thin pasta. In BRITTANY, it’s Milk Soup, administered in a ceremony on the third day after the wedding, but before the couple are alone with each other. Pierre-Jakez Helias discusses it in The Horse Of Pride: "The milk in the soup proclaimed that the couple’s life together would be pleasant; the garlic warned them to expect many disappointments."
In northern GERMANY--and I don’t have confirmation on this--I’ve read it’s called Holsteiner Hochzeits-Suppe, a light broth with meatballs, dumplings, green peppers, and strips of carrots. And in Thuringia specifically, one drops a shelled almond into the soup: Whoever retrieves it is sure to be the next to marry.
I’ve read that GREECE regales the celebrants with a meatball soup very similar to Italian Wedding Soup (see below).
In ITALY, the classic from Abruzzo has become a favorite internationally: ground veal and sirloin meatballs in chicken stock with torn escarole, sprinkled with Romano cheese. In fact, U.S. Masters champion Bernhard Langer ordered it up for his 1993 Champion’s Dinner at Augusta, Georgia.
In JAPAN, following Shinto ceremonies, Clam Soup is served at the feast--the paired valves of the mollusk’s shell symbolizing the couple’s union.
Traditional JEWISH ceremonies can serve a special Chicken Soup--Goldene Yoich (Yiddish for "Golden Soup)--to newly wedded couples.
KOREAN wedding banquets feature a simple noodle soup--the long noodles symbolizing a wish for a long and happy life.
MOROCCO serves a special variation of Harira (which traditionally breaks the fast of Ramadan there).
In TURKEY, it’s called Dugun Corbasi , a broth made from mutton, marrow, and vegetables, thickened with flour and egg yolks, with a julienne of the mutton, and topped with paprika butter and a dusting of cinnamon. By contrast, an Anatolian wedding soup is made of bulgar (cracked wheat), chick peas, tomato, and mint.
AND TO RECOVER FROM THE RIGORS OF THE WEDDING NIGHT?
In BRITTANY, FRANCE, it’s Onion Soup--offered traditionally by well wishers who escort the newlyweds to bed, then retire to the kitchen to make the soup...and who finally burst in on the couple singing, "L’apportons-nous la soupe, la soupe? L’apportons-nous la soupe a l’oignon?" (May we bring the soup, the soup; May we bring the onion soup?).
In TUSCANY, ITALY, Ginestrata, a medieval-spiced butter and egg soup is served to the bride and groom after the wedding night, guaranteed to revive their flagging spirits.
FOR WEDDING SOUP IN ACTION, SEE ANG LEE’S FILM "THE WEDDING BANQUET"
Wai-Tung Gao (Winston Chao) is in New York City managing real estate for his family back in Taiwan—and is in a longterm relationship with Andrew. But the pressure from his family to marry a woman is ferocious. Unwilling to confess he is gay, he arranges a marriage of convenience with one of his tenants, Wei-Wei (May Chin), who needs a green card. Mom and Dad arrive in ecstacy for the wedding and a 2-week stay. Wai-Tung and Wei-Wei’s modest plans almost immediately go stratospheric, ending in a completely over-the-top wedding and banquet.
Mrs. Gao (Ah Lei Gua): "Sister Mao, please get the Lotus soup."
Mrs. Gao feeds Wei-Wei the soup, blowing on each spoonful. Wei-Wei bursts into tears and is led out of the room.
It’s a miracle: by the end of the movie, Wei-Wei has conceived and Wai-Tung and Andrew can’t wait to become the proud fathers. It’s really what wedding soup is all about.
Let me hear from you—would love any wedding soup traditions you might know.
ps: please note that my e-mail address has changed, as my kids have bullied me into signing up for DSL. I’m can now be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last but not least, NEXT MONTH: Deconstructing Gazpacho--Spain Clasps New World Foods to its Soupy Breast.