Sunday, September 6, 2009

Stone Soup

One of my favourite childhood stories is the story of Stone Soup.

The story goes that many years ago a soldier, hungry and weary from battle, came upon a small village. The villagers, suffering a meagre harvest and the many years of war, quickly hid what little they had to eat and met him at the village square, wringing their hands and bemoaning the lack of anything to eat. He thought for a moment and said to the villagers: "Your tired fields have left you nothing to share, so I will share what little I have: the secret of how to make soup from a stone."

The story continues that a fire was soon put to a large pot in the town square as the soldier took out a velvet sack from which he took a smooth river stone and dropped it in the pot. "Now this will be a fine soup", he cried, rubbing his hands in anticipation, "but a pinch of salt and some parsley would make it wonderful!" Up jumped a villager, crying "What luck! I've just remembered where some has been left!" And off she ran, returning with an apronful of parsley and a turnip. As the pot boiled on, the memory of the village improved: soon barley, onions, carrots and beef had found their way into the great pot.

The soldier and the villagers shared the finest meal that any of them had eaten in months, and in the morning the village elder offered to buy the magical stone from the soldier. The soldier refused. As he left, the stranger came upon a group of village children standing near the road. He gave the velvet bag containing the stone to the youngest child, and confided that it was not the stone, but the villagers that had performed the magic." "There is no secret, but this is certain: it is only by sharing that we may make a feast". And off the soldier wandered, down the road.

I have loved this (admittedly propaganda laden) story for as long as I can remember and was delighted as I got older to discover that my favourite writer, Yeats had adapted the story for the stage in A Pot of Broth. For me, the story captures the true essence of why I love food. The tastes, textures and sustenance, while wonderful are secondary to the joy of sharing the experience of food with others.

There is something undeniably comforting about a shared pot of soup, whether made from stones or not, and its warmth has been welcome during the current spate of winterey weather we are experiencing in Dublin. It is no coincidence that soup must be made in large portions, suitable for sharing. If not feeding a whole village, perhaps freeze the excess.

Spiced Pumpkin Soup

2 Butternut Pumpkins (Squash) peeled and chopped into 5 cm chunks
1 large or 2 small onions, chopped
4 peeled chopped cloves garlic
1 tablespoons olive oil
2L of stock, I use chicken, but vegetable would work
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
4 curry leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

In large stockpot, gently fry the garlic and onion until translucent, about 10 minutes.
Add the spices, except for the curry leaf and fry for an additional minute.
Add 1-1.5L stock and curry leaf. Bring to boil.
Add pumpkin and bring to boil again until the pumpkin is soft.
Add more stock if required to cover the pumpkin.
Remove from heat.
Puree either using a 'slender blender' in the pot or a food processor.
The soup should be totally smooth.
Check the consistency and add more stock if you like a less chunky soup.
Put back onto the heat and heat through.
Serve with a dollop of yoghurt, or riatta.


1 small cucumber, preferably organic halved, seeded, coarsely grated
1 cup plain natural yogurt
Handful of chopped fresh mint
½ teaspoon ground cumin

Wrap grated cucumber in kitchen paper (disposable kitchen towels) and squeeze dry.
Whisk yogurt, mint and cumin in medium bowl to blend.
Add cucumbers and toss to coat.
Season with salt and pepper.
Put in fridge for at least 2 hours.
Can be prepared a day ahead.
Keep refrigerated.


Ciara said...

I love pumpkin, we dont use it in this country at all and we should. Im gonna make this!
A friend of mine has just opened a Waldorf Kindergarten called Soupstone, based on that story - him and his friends were saying what a great Kindergarten they would have, if only they had a premesis, some teachers, some children to attend...

'NEEN at 9 BEAN ROW said...

Ciara, hopefully with Halloween on the way there will be more pumpkin available. I am going to stock my freezer! I remember when I first moved here asking the greengrocer if he had any and was asked whether it was 'for the pigs'. He was dismayed and confused when I told him it was for myself!

Roisin said...

And I thought Stone Soup was only for when you're daydreaming!! :)

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