A couple of weeks ago I found myself in our kitchen staring at this stuffed box:
Upon unpacking it, uncovered these:
vegetables, pasta, beans, rice, and more.
A week or two before, I volunteered to be a “Stone Soup chef” for a second grade feast at our school. At the time, I didn’t realize that only a few families–as in three– would sign themselves up for the soup-making privilege. This box full of random abundance was a portion of all the small food contributions of many many kids. There were no rules to follow for cooking the Stone Soup at home, we were each to use what we liked from the ingredients provided, and show up the next day with hot soup in time for feasting. Where to begin? I had the feeling that I sometimes get when I have a bunch of art supplies in front of me and a blank piece of paper, something like scared excitement, but with the tickle and tingle of creative opportunity at hand.
Creative opportunity indeed! There were enough carrots in the box to make a completely carroty soup, including a bunch of beautiful home-grown ones and a note from the gardener dad who had grown them. But I could just imagine showing up with a pot full of steaming orange liquid for a bunch of 7 year olds…oh, the wrinkled up noses!
Just to wrap my mind around the soup possibilities, I made a list of every food in the box. After looking that list over, its seemed that the best way to tackle the job would be to make two soups, one vegetable noodle soup, and another that I would think of as “Southwestern,” with beans, rice, zucchini, and corn as a base. Comparing a couple of favorite soup recipes and reading a couple of favorite cookbooks helped get me to the first order of business– to pre-cook the beans, which I did the night before, along with grouping my vegetables. The rest would wait until cooking time.
The morning of the Feast I set to work with two cookbooks open and list in hand, my knives, peelers, and cutting boards ready to be put to work.
After much chopping, peeling, and slicing, and the opening of many stock cans (vegetable and chicken), the sautéing, boiling and simmering began. The two soups smelled delicious as they cooked, and passed a taste test with flying vegetable colors. That is until I added the noodles.
A friend advised me only the night before that I would only need a tiny fraction of the noodles to make a good noodle soup–she suggested a cup or so. In the spirit of a true stone soup, I tried to use as many of the different vegetables and starches as I could, if nothing else to represent the thoughtful offerings of each person. No surprise, then, I overdid it on the noodles, though when they first went into the fragrant vegetable filled broth, I thought the soup was turning out beautifully.
By the time I got to the school with my soups carefully padded and packed in a laundry basket, the noodle soup had turned into what looked like a pot full of noodles with some vegetables thrown in, and just a hint of broth somewhere near the bottom. The two other families arrived with their giant pots of noodle vegetable soup to set on the table with mine, and after sharing some kitchen stories we all laughed at our parallel efforts. One of the moms told me how she volunteered the year before to be a soup chef with disastrous results–a pot full of mush. Her husband talked her into another go at it this year with his assistance, and they came with a much improved and simplified soup. You live, you learn, eh!?
The kids ate their feast on Styrofoam plates, and slurped their soup from Styrofoam bowls, with plastic spoons, all the while wearing paper Pilgrim hats on their heads. It did not matter that my noodle soup was a pot of noodles in the end–it was kind of like the whole feast as representing the first Thanksgiving. The community sharing of simple foods was at the heart of it all, never mind that the modern day noodles, and Oreos, and pork rinds were taking up a lot of space on the Styrofoam plates– the fruit, cheese, and some vegetables were there too, if the kids chose to eat them.
The Southwestern soup turned out to be very popular with the grownups who tried it and said, “Now this is good soup!” I went home with an almost empty pot, and had enough for my own lunch and one more bowl left over. And yes, many, many carrots.