Soup’s on! There’s even a month and a day devoted to it!

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by Tom Van Dusen

While a movement has stirred up over the years to transform the basic survival practice of home-making soup during a Canadian winter into a fine-art form, it’s still really just a matter of tossing leftovers into a pot with some kind of base and seeing what comes out the other end.

We don’t really need a National Soup Month culminating in a Soup Day Feb. 4 to remind us that January, because Baby It’s Cold Outside, is an excellent time to consume this grab-bag kitchen concoction which dates back centuries.

In fact, it almost goes back to the discovery of fire and the ability to heat up food. In 16th Century France, concentrated “soupe” was sold by street vendors as an antidote to exhaustion. In Virginia in 1742, the first Colonial cookbook contained several soup recipes. Another milestone in the soupy annals occurred in 1897 when the Campbell’s Company came up with the condensed variety.

Unnecessary, yes, but the fact there is such a Soup Month and Day warms the cockles of the heart not unlike soup itself. While I tend to miss many of these commercialized special days, Soup Day is deeply imbedded because I honour the subject matter throughout the winter… and part way through fall and spring as well!

Columnist Tom Van Dusen knows how to stir a pot … as evidenced by this concoction of his. Van Dusen photo, Nation Valley News

On the other hand, National Hugging Day Jan. 21 totally eluded me; however, no masked, sanitized volunteers were lining up for hugs during the current COVID-19 lockdown/stay-at-home thingy anyway!

As I imagine is the case for many Canadians – at least ones of a certain age – I grew up in the winter months with an oversized cauldron of meal-in-itself soup (there were seven kids) being as much a part of the kitchen décor as tea and coffee pots.

My mother called her variation “stoup”, claiming it was a cross between stew and soup, very substantial but, mostly, it didn’t have to be chewed. There could be anything in the stoup pot and the discriminating child didn’t ask for a list of ingredients.

It was in the kitchen of the converted cottage in Aylmer that I developed a permanent powerful attraction to rib-sticking, gut-soothing everything-goes-into-it soup. At this time of year, I’d take a bowl – or two – of homemade stoup over pretty much any other meal.

I’ve carried on the tradition, regularly making pots of mystery soup for my two kids. In fact, there’s a pot on the stove now with hamburger base, canned crushed tomatoes, and odds and sods of leftover frozen vegetables, including a bag of what I thought was chopped asparagus stocks but might have been rhubarb. This crock has a sweet taste I couldn’t identify until daughter Victoria admitted to tossing a dollop of Kountry Kitchen Cupboard Chili Sauce into the mix when my back was turned.

I referred to mine as “zoup” which is what a European chef who once ran a restaurant in Limoges east of Ottawa called his daily offerings he would never identify other than with that word. “What’s the soup today, Chef? The reply was always “zoup” with a shrug of the shoulders as if you should know the answer.

When they were growing up, to make zoups more inviting, I’d identify them by the kids’ preferred ingredient as in “hotdog zoup” dressed up with sliced wieners.

These days, in honour of my soon-to-be 95-year-old mother, I’ve gone back to the term “stoup”… not exactly the stuff of fancy recipes such as Slow Cooker Chicken Taco Soup … but at least as satisfying!

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