Soup is comfort food for me. More than chocolate or ice cream. I love soup season. My cast iron Dutch oven pretty much just lives on the stove from October to April. La Famiglia has a long tradition of making ‘Garbage Soup’. I’m sure it has it’s home economics roots in in the generations before me having lived through two world wars and The Great Depression, with a big, close, extended family that was legion all by itself, and has a habit as far back as anybody ever recorded of taking in strays. For generations, someone in my family is always bringing home another slightly startled looking stranger. It’s genetic. ‘You look hungry, you need to come with me.’ is just imprinted on all of our brains from childhood. We all do it. Then we keep them and all of their offspring for generations until nobody even knows for sure which ones are blood relatives, and which ones just had an unwary ancestor who followed one of my ancestors home one day. It makes untangling the family tree a bit of a chore, but there is a solid upside to being part of your own standing army. You can put two complete football teams on the field without even having to resort to second cousins if you want. It has always been this way. Everyone on my side of the family has inherited walls and a table that stretch to fit however many they need to.
Crowded homes and crowded noisy tables are better than new cars and swish vacations any day, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise, but it can mean sometimes needing to feed a crowd with not much. Not truly the case in our house, we have more of everything than we really need, and room left over for considerable comfort. Our ends don’t just meet. They overlap pretty comfortably most of the time. Still ‘Garbage Soup’ is a thing.
As a child I had an aunt who would steal corn cobs off your plate. Or chicken bones. Or WHATEVER. Before you could throw it out and waste food, it went into the ‘soup bucket’. A clean ice cream tub in the fridge. The same aunt hung teabags on the clothesline for reuse. We also grow them a little strange. Everything in the ‘soup bucket’ would simmer in a pot on the back of the stove all afternoon the next day, with a parmesan rind, whatever else was around that needed using, and whatever seasoning it inspired, plus whatever pasta or rice was closest to hand. Food and family are a connection for most people. For me, the soup was like the echo of whatever noisy family meal it was the remains of. It tastes as much like the stories told over the table as whatever was on it. As a result, some days the more we stretched things to make room for ‘just one more’, the better and richer the soup turned out. Bread is cheap and easy to make, and you can always find an extra potato, onion or carrot to make the soup go a little further. No matter what kind I ultimately wind up making, it always winds up tasting like home, and family, and time spent with loved ones.
The more we water the soup, the better it gets.
I miss my noisy, crowded table of chosen family this year. Cooking is EASIER when not stepping around the fiddle player, over someone’s kid, and ‘when did we get a dog?’ but it isn’t nearly as much fun. For now I have to settle for knowing that you’re all safe, healthy, and the separation is temporary.
And so I’m making soup.