Monday, May 20, 2013
The Psychology of Soup
I made soup this last week. While this isn't earth-shattering news, it also doesn't mean that I cranked open a can of Campbell's either. See, I inherited a Soup Gene from my maternal grandmother and that means I don't just make soup, I understand soup, like in a Freudian way.
I think it was back when I was in college and had finally moved into a place with a stove that I called my mother for her Barley Soup recipe. Growing up, Barley Soup and Latkes were two of the only things I'd eat since I appear to have been born with a distinctly Jewish palate. She informed me the first ingredient was water.
"Water? To make soup?" This sounded fishy to me. I'm a little stupid in a kitchen but I would say the first ingredient should have been anything but water.
Then she rattled off a quick list of everything else that needed to be tossed in the pot, with a perfunctory slice here and there: onions, carrots, potatoes, beef short ribs. The mystery of the bay leaf.
"Oh, and barley," she said. "You should probably put in barley. Though I once made barley soup without barley and Dad didn't even notice."
So that's how I make Barley Soup; I just start dumping ingredients into a pot. If I have too many ingredients, and I always do, I go to a second pot. Etcetera. This is how I end up being the go-to-soup-gal for all my sick friends, how I freeze gigantic Tupperware containers full of soup and how I provided my stepfather with soup that he ate sparingly, in impossibly tiny amounts, during his last eight months in Arizona.
So it's really no surprise that the week after he passed away I suddenly found myself with this urge to make soup. Maybe the soup will make me feel better, since I can't save him. Maybe it'll answer the question of where exactly my elderly are for whom I used to make soup? If I make soup and bring it over there, will he just magically appear, regaling me with tales about how he takes my soup and then makes rice to thicken it and extend its usefulness? How magic is this soup anyway?
I would say, "Bob, the soup will go bad, you're making it last too long. It won't be good in a week."
But he looks at me like only someone who grew up during the Depression can, only someone who saves paper and plastic bags, only someone who still pronounces Cincinnati "Cincinnata," and says, "You should try it, Linda! One small box of Uncle Ben's - here I'll show you - and I won't need any more food for weeks!"
Here's what I used to know: I could take one of my gigantic soup pots, put water in it and a bunch of other things and an hour or two later I would have food. From water. From nothing. Food that could keep people alive.
Here's what I know now: I can't.
Are you in charge of any signature family recipes? Has your family been touched by frugality? Missing anyone?