There is nothing more ordinary than soup and perhaps that is why we are so fond of it.
Soup’s comfort, after all, is both in its warmth and in its simplicity. It speaks of tradition and home and hope.
The history of soup mirrors the history of cooking. Since most soups are heated to extract nutrients and flavors from ingredients added to water, soup requires fire. It is generally thought that soup wouldn’t have become commonplace until somewhere between 5,000 and 9,000 years ago when waterproof and heatproof containers were invented. However, some argue that soup may predate that by as much as 15,000 year, suggesting that stone-age soup may have existed— specifically humans using an entire animal for sustenance by boiling its bones.
Historians believe that soup was the original menu item of the first public restaurants, which would have opened in 18th century Paris. The word “restoratifs” (which loosely means that something is ”restoring”) was first used in 16th century France to refer to a highly concentrated, cheap soup sold by street vendors and promoted as a remedy to illness or physical exhaustion. In 1765, a Parisian entrepreneur opened a shop specializing in such soups, launching the use of the term “restaurant” for such an establishment.
Nikki Miller-Ka serving soup at last year’s Empty Bowls Luncheon in Winston-Salem
The act of combining various ingredients in a large pot to create a nutritious, filling, easily digested, simple to make and serve food was inevitable (our generation, after all, is not the first to be pressed for time). Thus, soup is a universal dish, found across almost all cultures and accessible to all people. Soup (and stews, pottages, porridges, gruels, etc.) evolved according to what ingredients could be found locally and what tastes a culture had already developed. Every culture has their soup: Spanish gazpacho, Russian borscht, French onion, Chinese wonton, New England chowder, Nigerian pepper soups, or an iconic can of Campbell’s tomato– a cultural phenomena in its own right.
And soup, of course, takes on additional meaning when discussing food insecurity. Throughout history and even today, in times when food is scarce, combining various available ingredients into a pot to boil is not only cheap, it is filling. Many of Second Harvest Food Bank’s 470 partner programs are community meal sites known colloquially as “soup kitchens” — soup remaining an economical way to serve many people all at once. Of course, the “soup kitchens” of our network often go far beyond serving soup, not only offering other nutritious foods but also other social supports that go beyond immediate nutrition needs.
Canned soups and condensed soups entered the market at the turn of the 20th century, introduced by the iconic Campbell Soup Company. We would be remiss without noting that these canned soups and dried soups are a cornerstone of modern food banking, and are popular items to donate at Second Harvest Food Drives along with our other most needed items.
Canned soups on a shelf at one of Second Harvest’s local partner pantries.
From Stone Age bone broth to France’s bouillon health tonics to canned soups in our food drive boxes to Second Harvest’s Providence Restaurant’s White Bean Chicken Chili, soup is a part of the human experience. With all this soup on our mind, we turned to some food bankers to ask them what their favorite soup recipes are and what they mean to them.
Soup reminds us of our culture. Kana Miller, from Second Harvest’s Nutrition Services Team, shares with us a Japanese miso soup. “It 100% reminds me of home and my family,” she says. “However, I don’t have a recipe for it because I’ve always just made it from memory/taste. After many years of watching my mom and grandmother make it, I figured out how to make it. I did find a recipe online from my favorite Japanese food blogger and it gives a very good explanation of what miso soup is and how to make it.” Here is her suggested recipe.
Soup reminds us of family. Eric Aft, Second Harvest’s Chief Operating Officer, shared a recipe for split pea soup with turkey kielbasa with us. “This soup is along the lines of what I remember my mother making on New Year’s day for us,” he reminisces.
Soup reminds us of resourcefulness. “One of the things that stands out to me about soup is how variable it is, how much room there is for change. Soup is not specific; its recipe is flexible,” says Gwen Frisbie-Fulton, from Second Harvest’s Development and Community Relations team. She shares with us her Very Delicious but Oxymoronic Vegan Chicken Soup recipe that she created when she wanted something that tasted like home, but fit her dietary choices.
Want to taste the BEST of Winston-Salem’s soups? Save the date for Empty Bowls 2018, Second Harvest’s signature fundraising event. This year we are introducing TWO meals: Dinner, April 17th and Lunch, April 18th, both at the Benton Convention Center in downtown Winston-Salem.