Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Eating. soup. (Reading. Colwin).

Do you remember the childhood fable of Stone Soup? A wanderer comes to a town, proclaiming that he can make soup from a stone. I forget how the tale unfolds, but what I remember is each person, drawn to this traveler by curiosity and disbelief, brings a different ingredient, beginning with water from someone's well - and then onions, carrots, salt, herbs, perhaps a few bones. Each item is added to the pot simmering over a fire in the town square, and by the end of the story a wonderful scent fills the air, the mouth-watering aroma of soup. Soup that begin with a single stone. I think of this story every year, when my co-workers and I make soup the Monday after Thanksgiving. One person always saves the carcass from her family's turkey, and everyone brings vegetables - celery and onions and carrots and yams or sweet potatoes and ginger. The fragrance fills the entire lab as it burbles away on the kitchen stove.

It is different from the leftover turkey soup of my childhood. The night after Thanksgiving, after the dishes had been cleared away and all the pots and pans washed, the leftovers packaged in plastic boxes and piled in the refrigerator, the carcass would go into deep soup pot to simmer away. There would be chunks of onion and celery and carrots and tomatoes, perhaps the springs of parsley used as a garnish, and sweet corn. As the days went by the soup would get murkier (and more flavorful) as it was reheated again and again. Part of the pleasure of Thanksgiving is those bowls of soup, with plates of turkey sandwiches and stuffing on the side, until the monotony becomes unbearable and you need another year before you can face turkey again.

There is nothing like soup, writes Laurie Colwin. It is by nature eccentric: no two are ever alike, unless of course you get your soup from a can. (There is, of course, a kind of reassurance to soup from a can that always tastes the same; chicken noodle, short on both chicken and noodle, long on golden broth and bits of carrots, or cream of tomato, bland and comforting and the perfect accompaniment to grilled cheese sandwiches). She describes the best soup she ever ate as one made from a friend's leftover Christmas pheasant...Not so long ago [she] bought a pheasant...so that [she] could try to replicate it. But that soup, like most leftover soups, is a kind of lost chord and no one will ever find it again.

I thought of her words the other day as I ate a bowl of soup made from the remains of a roast chicken. I had roasted it with chunks of carrots and onions spread beneath the bird to catch the drippings; it gave the soup a caramelized intensity, a deeper richness and sweetness that I had never found before. I had slipped crushed cloves of garlic beneath the skin before roasting and the faint prickle of garlic still remained, a whisper of memory. Perhaps it is a lost chord, but one I hope to find again.

Colwin, Laurie. Home Cooking. HarperPerennial, 1993. p. 116.

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