We were just cooking our evening meal when he comes upon us with his foul breath and pushy ways. My sister remembered what a squeamish boy he'd been and, just to put him at a little distance, picks up a bit of greens and says, Oh, here's a little toad poison for the soup.

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Spooky Soup

(e-SoupSong 43: October 31, 2003)

"I've come on behalf of Malcolm, ma'am. An enquiry into the recent events concerning the late King Macbeth."

"Not my fault, officer. Not my fault, nor my two sisters neither."

"We're sent to look into the facts of the case, ma'am. Can you tell me, is it not true that you and your sisters met Macbeth, then Thane of Glamis, and Master Banquo upon the heath some many months back and were discoursing of witchery and things magic?"

"Oh, laddie, I do remember such a night, but there was no discourse of witchery and magic. We were having a bit of fun with the thane, that's all."

"Can you tell me, is it not true that you and your sisters met King Macbeth at a later date upon the heath and showed him spirits that pricked him on to kill the mistress of Macduff and all her babes?"

"Oh, laddie, I do remember that night too. The King saw visions, yes, stinking drunk as he was. He scared us so with raving, my sisters and me, that we ran away, blessing ourselves as we went."

"Can you tell me, mistress, is it not true that you and your sisters cast a spell upon the King that turned him into a monster of bloodlust, causing such misery in the Kingdom that the land still cries in pain?"

"Lord no, poor lad, we did no such thing. You haven't got it right at all. We are just simple women, we three; poor, unschooled, and innocent."

"Madam, you are accused of witchcraft and unholiness. By the authority vested in me by the Kingdom of Scotland, I hereby arrest you in the name of King Malcolm."

"Get back! Don't touch me! Though I am foul seeming with creeping years, I am fair, laddie, in all that I have done. Should not these gray hairs be respected? And aren't you young Pàidean of Inverness? I knew your Daddy, sir--helped him when his arm was cankered, helped him with his chillblains. He'd curse you if he saw you treat an old woman this way, and me a friend of the family."

"Come along, now. Come along. No need to be bringing my father into it, old woman."

"Wait! Wait, kind sir. A moment, a moment. Just stay and have a sup of broth. I'll unburden myself to you. You'll see that I'm innocent. Innocent! Listen well and hear God's truth--that it was black hearted Macbeth--always black hearted Macbeth--who made all the trouble and brought the Kingdom down.

Come, dear Pàd, step in out of the cold. Sit down right here. Ah, the fire is burning and the cauldron, bubbling. Yes, right here, where it's warmest. 'Tis such a cold and grimping night, we neither of us should go off without something hot in our bellies.

Here, now. Just eat this good hot broth while I tell you the truth of it.

I will tell you, laddie, there was some history to that first meeting. We knew Macbeth when he was just a boy. The meanest whelp e'er born in these parts, he was. One day he stabbed my cat and ripped its guts, poor thing, just to try the blade of his new sword. Raped my niece, sweet Ceana, just 10 years old, one of many he did that way, the cur. You know this; you've heard the stories. Little Master Fancypants, he was called. No milk of human kindness in that mama's boy. Dull in brain besides--full of scorpions, not wit.

Ah, you like the broth? Thanks for that. I do what I can with my poor scraps. Won't you have another bowl?

Well, 'twas cold that night we met Macbeth and Master Banquo, I and my sisters scouring the heath for chestnuts, wanting to make them into a meal. Along comes Master Fancypants swaggering. He spies us, us so weary with our labor, and he heaps on insults. For no reason! Withered, he and Banquo call us. And wild. Laughing at the old-age hairs upon our chins.

So I and my sisters exchange a glance. You know how close sisters can be, practically reading each others' minds. We curtsy and hail him as a great leader: All hail, Macbeth!, we said. Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor! All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!

Just having a bit of fun, you know. Oh, but he loved it. You could see it instantly. Much nicer to us, then, he was. Stay, he says. Oh stay you imperfect speakers, tell me more. Then again: Say from whence you owe this strange intelligence--he says, eyes all glittering and chops slavering with ambition--or why upon this blasted heath you stop our way with such prophetic greeting.

What a state he was in! That's all, dear Paddock. I swear, that's all there was!"

"Paddock? Did you call me Paddock? Are you calling me a toad, madam?"

"Laddie, laddie, it's a term of endearment, because our families are close. Your Daddy called me Grannie and I took no mind of it. Let me finish my story while the fire still burns. We left Macbeth at once after our little joke, not knowing whether to laugh or fear for the land. That cur, though. We said to each other that we'd give him his just deserts if ever we had a chance, to pay him back for such disrespect.

Time passed. We shuddered, of course, when we heard about poor King Duncan's murder. Worse when Macbeth put the crown upon his own head at Scone. Poor country. Poor wretched country.

And then one night here he comes again. Pissing drunk, cursing us, demanding favors. Favors! That was rich. As if we'd do him favors when he hunted us down and hailed us as...as...what was it he called us? Secret, black, and midnight hags! Those words and that visit were the price we paid, laddie, for that bit of fun we'd had with him before. God ever punishes us for our sins, small though they be.

We were just cooking our evening meal when he comes upon us with his foul breath and pushy ways. My sister remembered what a squeamish boy he'd been and, just to put him at a little distance, picks up a bit of greens and says, Oh, here's a little toad poison for the soup.

He stands straight back and looks as if his eyeballs would start from his head. It was funny, Pàddie, no mistake. Come, don't you think so too?"

"Grannie, you have a strange sense of humor. Can you fetch me something to drink? I'm feeling very dry."

"Here, laddie; I've all the water you may need. 'Tis the goodness of the soup that makes you thirst.

But then, hark, my other sister joins in. Oh, and here's a bit of fenny snake, says she, and eye of newt and tongue of dog and, well, a lot of other noisome things I can't remember now.

We were covering our lips by then, Pàddie, to keep from laughing out loud, I'll tell you that.

Oh, says me, getting into the spirit and pitching in some bits of barley and wild onion, Here's some scale of dragon and nose of Turk and Tartar's lips.

At that, my sister gives me a hard pinch and hisses, Stop fool, y'er overdoing it! But laughing for all that.

Then, on a sudden, Macbeth staggers at us and shouts in our faces, I CONJURE YOU TO ANSWER ME! Yes, he shouts just like that. And that's not all, laddie. He speaks a lot of blasphemy I dare not repeat, bless the Lord, saying that he doesn't care if he must destroy all the world but that he'll conjure us!

Now our smiles freeze on our faces, our souls struck cold. Full of sound and fury, he was, jabbing his steel at us with bloody execution. We fell to our knees, hands clasped in front of us to pray for mercy. He comes at us, roaring. Then, praise God for our innocent lives, the King stumbles, comes down hard, and hits his head upon a stone.

Up we got and raced away, but stopped close by, behind some brush in the dark of the heath, to mark if he were alive or dead, knowing it would go hard with us if the King was harmed and us at fault. Then, thumbs pricking, we saw he was alive, or at least in some evil state of living.

Here's the part you must take back to Malcolm. That Macbeth! The fit was upon him, as was the custom from his youth; he was possessed, full of guilt and murder, and in a frantic trance talking to things we could not see. First a warrior he addresses, invisible to us. Then a bloody baby. Then another babe, with a crown upon its head--all, all invisible to us. And last a vision that galls him so that he shouts and twists himself upon the ground, gabbling of how he slew blood-boltered Banquo.

Ah dear Pàddie, you didn't know that? 'Tis true, though. Poor Master Banquo.

My tale is told now, lad, signifying much, I hope, to the good of Scotland and to the King. I and my sisters are innocent of any wrongdoing and in some small way, perhaps, helped bring good Malcolm to the throne. For is it not true, dear pet, that Macbeth might not have lost his crown unless he'd crack it on the stone that dark night of hunting us down?"

"Grannie, I thank you for the soup and drink and warming fire. But now I must take you in to King Malcolm, and there's an end to it."

"Pàddie, you cannot take me in."

"This way, ma'am. I'll bind you if I must."

"Nae, my pet, I mean I think that y'er not able. Not with my good soup in your belly, packed as it is with your own toadish poison, with snake and newt, frog and bat, dog and adder, dragon, wolf, the nose of Turk, the lips of Tartar, all charmed with a splash of baboon's blood. Tell me true, young Paddock, do you not feel a wee bit odd? Dwindled, peaked, and piney? A bit smaller than when you first came knocking? A wee bit green? And very horny indeed?"


"Paddock calls! What's done is done. Ah, bonnie toadling, hop into my pocket. The hurly-burly's done. The battle's lost and won. Fair is foul, and foul is fair. My sisters wait. Let's hover through the fog and filthy air, for tonight is Hallowe'en night!"

* * *

Expecting the recipe for Granny's charming soup, hmmmm? Guess again. There's an old Scottish saying, "It tak's a long spoon to tae sup wi' the devil--or wi' a Fifer." And with 11th century Tartar's lips and baboon blood hard to come by at local supermarkets, I thought you'd make better use of a traditional Scottish soup from a gentler age:

SCOTCH BROTH (for 6-8 people)

A lovely and sustaining soup, perfect for a blustery night of sending out or welcoming home trick-or-treaters. It bristles with colorful bits of lamb and root vegetables; is thick with barley; thrice to thine, and thrice to mine, and thrice again, to make up nine. Peace, the charm's wound up!

  • 1/2 cup pearl barley, soaked overnight in lots of cold water (or at least for the duration of making the stock)
  • 2 pounds meaty lamb bones (lamb shanks are great)
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 10 cups cold water
  • 1 cup onion, cut into a very small dice
  • 1 cup carrots, cut into a very small dice
  • 1 cup parsnips, cut into a very small dice
  • 1 cup rutabaga or turnip, cut into a very small dice
  • salt and pepper to taste
Garnish: minced parsley

Soak the barley overnight (or at least while you're boiling the bones).

Put the bones, onion, and peppercorns in a large pot and cover with the cold water. Bring to a boil slowly, skimming the foam as it rises. Reduce heat to low, partially cover, and let simmer for 2 hours. Strain and skim off the fat. Strip any good meat from the bones and add to the broth.

In a large souppot, bring the broth and meat to a boil, add the soaked (and strained) barley and all the vegetables. When the pot is at a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for an hour, until the barley is tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. When ready to serve, ladle into bowls and top each with a mince of parsley.

Hoping you enjoy the soup, and wishing you all a very spooky All Hallow's Eve, indeed.

Best regards,
Pat Solley

* * *

NEXT MONTH: Mystery Cans

Other business: SOUPSONG MIGRATES ONCE AGAIN! Earthlink couldn't restore service in the wake of Hurricane Isabel, requiring an ISP change. But excellent news: The sainted Grover, my main squeeze server, has blessed me with a new dependable, sophisticated, nonvolatile account. Need to get in touch with me? Want to unsubscribe? Email me directly at psolley@soupsong.com. Also, stay tuned for Soupsong going hardcopy with Three Rivers Press, publication date September 2004. Less than a year now!

Want to make great soups without the trouble of homemade stocks? I highly recommend you try RediBase professional soup bases fo the home cook at www.redibase.com.