Post # 168 Stone Soup

September 20, 2013 at 8:34 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 168 Stone Soup

There’s an old story, a fable really, about the man who made Stone Soup.  He was a wanderer and arrived at a poor village with nothing in his pack to eat.  As he looked around, he realized that he had very little chance of getting anything to eat.  He hit on a plan and started looking around for a stone.

While he was looking for the stone, a villager came up to him to find out what he was doing.

“Ah!  Just the person I was looking for!” the wanderer said.  “Could you direct me to the best place to find a soup stone?”

The villager had never heard of a soup stone so he asked about it.

“Well,” said the wanderer.  “It’s a stone about the size of my fist, smooth, and round.  If it’s speckled that makes it more valuable.  It makes the best Stone Soup you’ve ever tasted.”

“I’ve never heard of Stone Soup.  Is it good?”

“Well, if I had a stone, a pot, and water, I could brew up a batch for you.”

The villager thought for a moment.  “Down by the river are several stones.  Likely one of those would do.  The river will give you water.”

“True, but we still need a pot.”

“I have one at home.  I’ll run along and get it and meet you by the river.”

“I have a better idea.  You fetch your pot.  I’ll get the stone.  We’ll both bring water from the river and bring it back here to the village.  It’s drier and more comfortable.”

The wanderer went to the river and stared at the stones, picking up one or two, but discarding them.  Soon another villager saw him and asked him what he was up to.

“I’ve never heard of stone soup, but I’d be interested in tasting it, too.  Can I bring something?” the other villager asked.

The wanderer thought about it for a moment, then said, “The soup tastes better when it’s hot.  Have you wood, and flint and steel?”

“Certainly!” the villager said, excited.  “I’ll bring them along to the village.”  He left quickly.

Shortly after that, the first villager returned with a very large pot.  “I thought perhaps if we made a large amount then we could have our fill and some for tomorrow.”

The wanderer nodded at the wisdom of this.  They filled the pot and managed between the two of them to carry it to the village without spilling too much water.

Once they had the pot in place, the second villager arrived with a cart full of wood and a sack that held his flint and steel.  In no time, a fire was started and the pot sat near the edge, slowly heating.  With great ceremony, the wanderer tossed the stone he had selected into the pot of simmering water.

“How long does it take?” asked the second villager.

“A stone is a very hard thing.” the wandered said.  “It does take a while to soften it enough to make good soup.”

Shortly, the curious villagers gathered about, looking at the pot and asking questions.  The answers surprised everyone since no one had ever heard of Stone Soup before.  Everyone waited around to see the result of the effort.

After many minutes, the wanderer took an old spoon out of his pocket and stirred the simmering water.  Then, carefully so as not to burn himself, he tasted the soup.

“Ahh!” he said.  “It’s fine for what it is.  I just wish there was some salt to add to it.  Stone Soup is good, but with salt, it’s terrific.”

“I have some salt!” cried a villager who hurried off to get the salt.

Many more minutes later, after the salt had been added, the wanderer again tasted the soup and smacked his lips.  “Delicious!” he exclaimed.  “In a few hours, this soup will be perfect.  The salt added just the right touch.  I only wish . . . well, never mind.”

“What?” the villagers asked, almost in unison.

“Well, perhaps, an onion or two, or garlic, but there’s no use wishing for what isn’t there!”

“I have onions!  I have garlic!” a few villagers cried, and matching words to deeds ran off to fetch their contributions.

Shortly, the aroma of onion and garlic stewing filled the air and the entire village watched the pot with anticipation.  Stone soup smelled as exotic as its name.

A long time later, the wanderer again tasted the soup.  “Oh, that’s good.  The only thing wanting is potatoes, or turnips, or carrots.”

Without a word, several villagers disappeared and soon the vegetables were added to the soup.

Over the course of the afternoon, many more things were added to the soup.  The scent made everyone hungry.  Instead of going to their own homes and fixing a meager meal, each villager added their own contribution to what was becoming a feast.  One person provided a table for the villagers to sit at.  Another person supplied bowls; another, spoons.  Several people brought bread to the table.  Still others brought butter.  By the end of the afternoon, the poor village had each brought what they had and created a feast for themselves that left them full and happy.  Each villager proclaimed it the best Stone Soup they’d ever had.  The wanderer ate his fill, packed some up, and went on his way with hearty goodbyes.

Stone-Soup

I first read this story, or had it read to me, when I was in kindergarten.  Looking back, I now realize it was the first cooking lesson I ever had.

I made soup for dinner yesterday.  I had a three pound roast of beef that I had to cook.  I normally cut those in half to make two or three meals.  But, what I wanted to do with both halves required the same kind of cooking so I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone.  Or maybe, two cows with one stone.  Or one stone, one pot, and stone soup.  Oh, what the hell, I made soup.

I put the entire roast into a big ole pot with a quart of water, some salt and pepper, and the lid on top.  I brought the water to a boil, turned it down, and let it simmer for hours, until that stone turned soft.  By the time it was ready, the fat cap on the roast fell off with a touch.  I had added more water during the afternoon so I’d have plenty of broth for the soup, but that was all the fussing I did to it during the cooking time.

By four o’clock, the meat was falling apart tender.  I took it out of the broth and tasted the broth.  Pretty bland, but oh! so meaty!  I added some salt, but not a lot since as the broth reduced, the flavors would concentrate.  Then I looked around to see what I could add to it.

I’m not a good planner when it comes to soup making.  I tend to start it, then look around to see what’s there.  There’s always something to throw into soup even if it’s just meat and noodles.  Or rice.  Always got those.  So I looked around.  I chopped an onion and threw it in.  I had some left over chopped cabbage from tacos a few nights ago so that went in.  A can of tomatoes adds depth to ANY beef recipe.  So in it goes.  A ton of minced garlic.  Oh, what else?  Looking around, looking around.  Oh!  There’s something.  A bag of frozen green beans.  Beef and green beans taste so good together.  By the time I was done looking, I had a ton of hearty vegetables cooking in the broth while the meat cooled off enough to shred.

A quick taste and it was time to adjust seasonings.  It was too salty.  Ooops!  Have to fix that.  Now, many people believe that if you added too much salt, then obviously the way to correct that is to add sugar.  DO NOT DO THAT!!!!  Sugar does not counteract salt.  And in soup, it’s disgusting.  Add lemon.  Lemon will actually cut the salt flavor.  Really and truly.  So I added about a half tablespoon of lemon juice.  The tomatoes and lemon made the soup very tangy, but I knew that the flavors would mellow a lot as they cooked so I wasn’t worried.  What was more important was that the saltiness was gone.  But I wanted something else, some other flavor to add a different layer.  I wandered through my spices and herbs and thought about oregano but I didn’t want the soup to have an Italian profile.  Oh!  I ran out to the garden and pulled a few mint leaves and a few basil leaves.  I chopped them up finely and tossed them in.  Not a lot, I didn’t want the soup to taste only of mint and basil.

So there were vegetables and seasonings in my soup.  Now was time to chop up the beef.  I cut the roast in half.  I wrapped one half in foil and put in the fridge to wait until I needed it in the next day or two.  I was thinking shredded beef tacos, but who knew what it would really turn into.  I took off all the fat I could see and chopped it up for the dogs’ dinner.  Which they loved, by the way.  After chopping the meat up roughly, I put it back into the pot and set it to simmering.  Wonderful, beautiful soup.

Something was missing.  And I knew what it was.  Starch.  It needed either pasta, rice, or potatoes.  I didn’t have any fresh potatoes, and I wasn’t going to put frozen tater tots into this soup.  That’s a good tip, by the way.  The tots fall apart and you have potato shreds in your soup.  Good stuff.  Just don’t add too many.  I love rice, as you know, but I knew that if I decided to freeze the leftover soup, the rice would slowly absorb all the broth.  The rice would expand to the size of bloated ticks, fall apart, and eventually turn into rice pudding.  Nope.  The only way to have rice in soup is to cook it separately and add it to the serving bowl, never the tureen.  Ever.  That left pasta.  And I have LOTS of pasta.  All the time.  So I decided to add some Chinese noodles we’d picked up at a Chinese market nearby.

Someday, if I haven’t already told you about it, I’ll tell you about the ill fated attempt at cooking angel hair pasta in the spaghetti sauce.  Long story short, don’t do it.  Lesson learned, I cooked up the pasta al dente and added to the soup.

Finally, done!  Loads of broth, vegetables, beef, and noodles.  Hot, happy, and tasty!  Totally Stone Soup.  It’s what you bring to the pot.

Enjoy!

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