Sunday, October 7, 2012

Stone Soup...

It is a cold and rainy day...and I am lucky indeed to have a large kettle of soup on the hob - and a fresh loaf coming out of the oven any moment! We received our CSA box yesterday, so the soup is bits and bobs of the older veggies that have to be used up, simmered in beef stock - with some small bits of meat - and a few generous handfuls of greens. The steam warms the kitchen with comforting scents, and this easy bit of kitchen magic lends a cheery note to a dreary day,

Whilst making today's soup, I was reminded of a childhood favorite tale...I have to say, this version - with its variations here - is quite different from the gentle, "community cooking" story I grew up with!

A tramp knocked at the farmhouse door. "I can't let you in, for my husband is not at home," said the woman of the house. "And I haven't a thing to offer you," she added. Her voice showed unmasked scorn for the man she held to be a beggar.
"Then you could make use of my soup stone," he replied, pulling from his pocket what appeared to be an ordinary stone.
"Soup stone?" said she, suddenly showing interest in the tattered stranger.
"Oh yes," he said. "If I just had a potful of water and a fire, I'd show you how it works. This stone and boiling water make the best soup you've ever eaten. Your husband would thank you for the good supper, if you'd just let me in and put my stone to use over your fire."
The woman's suspicions yielded to her desire for an easy meal, and she opened the door. A pot of water was soon brought to a boil. The tramp dropped in his stone, then tasted the watery gruel. "It needs salt, and a bit of barley," he said. "And some butter, too, if you can spare it." The woman obliged him by adding the requested ingredients. He tasted it again. "Much better!" he said. "But a good soup needs vegetables and potatoes. Are there none in your cellar?"
"Oh yes," she said, her enthusiasm for the miracle soup growing, and she quickly found a generous portion of potatoes, turnips, carrots, and beans.
After the mixture had boiled awhile, the man tasted it again. "It's almost soup," he said. "The stone has not failed us. But some chicken broth and chunks of meat would do it well."
The woman, recognizing the truth of his claim, ran to the chicken yard, returning soon with a freshly slaughtered fowl. "Soup stone, do your thing!" she said, adding the chicken to the stew.
When their noses told them that the soup was done, the woman dished up a healthy portion for her guest and for herself. They ate their fill, and -- thanks to the magic stone -- there was still a modest bowlful left over for her husband's supper.
"My thanks for the use of your pot and your fire," said the tramp as evening approached, and he sensed that the husband soon would be arriving home. He fished his stone from the bottom of the pot, licked it clean, and put it back into his pocket.
"Do come again," said the thankful woman.
"I will indeed," said the tramp, and disappeared into the woods.