Tuesday, November 1, 2011

This I Believe: The Power of Soup

In 2005, I was standing at the stove, stirring a simmering stockpot and listening to the radio. I heard Deirdre Sullivan's submission for This I Believe, titled Always Go to the Funeral. The precepts and particulars of that essay stayed with me, and, this spring, I wrote a reflection on putting her words into action.

In all these years, though, I've never had an "aha" moment that could help me distill my own beliefs into one thesis statement and 500 words. Then, as I was reading the project's newest book, Life Lessons, it came to me.  I believe in the power of soup.  Here are my 500 words on that subject:

I believe in the masterpieces that everyday people can create, when they’re given a chance. I believe in sharing nourishment with my friends. I believe in warm, tasty liquids on a freezing cold day. I believe in the power of soup.

I started hosting soup swaps four years ago, after reading about Knox Gardner, a Seattle resident who loved to cook big pots of soup but who quickly tired of his own cooking. He had an idea to bring friends together for an evening to talk about, and swap, containers of their favorite soups. His hope was not only to fill his freezer with tasty meals, but, as he said, “foster a community of friends and families to create traditions around food and sharing.”

I held my first soup swap shortly after I read that article, and I’ve never looked back. I host two swaps a year, one in spring and one in fall, although I had a friend tell me recently that she thought I held them every month. That would just be crazy, but it shows what an impact the swaps have had. The concept is simple:  arrive with six containers of frozen soup, tell the group about your creation, pick a number, and then take turns selecting new soups to take home and enjoy.  

In Minnesota, where I live, the winters are cold and long, and the prospect of brand-new soup, maybe a kind I’ve never tried before, or one from a friend who’s a great cook, can liven up many dreary weeknight suppers and Saturday afternoon lunches. But it’s more than that, of course – it’s the friendships and bonds that are formed when we share the stories of our precious creations with each other. Like the woman who told us that she was the only grandkid who ever cooked with Grandma, and how now all her siblings want to come over to her house for bowls of Grandma’s Famous Vegetable Soup. Or the newlywed who swapped Artichoke Bisque, the same kind of soup that she and her boyfriend were eating when he proposed. Or the friend who told of her transformative vacation at a Colorado dude ranch, and how she’d convinced the chef to share the recipe for Roasted Poblano and Squash Soup to help her remember that time.

There are chances to give back, too. One year, I had a friend who had just started chemotherapy treatment, so I asked guests to bring along an extra container. Their generosity allowed me to deliver twenty quarts of soup to my ailing friend and her family.

Soup is slow. You just cannot rush soup. Soup is nourishing. Even when some of the ingredients are slightly decadent, it’s nourishing for all the parts of you, not just the waistline. And, perhaps most importantly for the place where I live, soup is warm. When I open my freezer and heat up a friend’s recipe, I think of her and I connect with her. All over one bowl of soup.

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