My mother’s good soup — but no stone

My Mother made good soup. It was a skill common to women who lived through the Great Depression. Her soup gave young people the energy to do what needed to be done while allowing older folks to settle. It was multifaceted and was always standing by.

When demand for the soup exceeded its immediate supply something would be added. What that something was varied. Sometimes it would be fresh and new. More often leftovers were the heart and soul of it.

If there was nothing new and no leftovers, the default additions were various broths. Sometimes these broths were “fortifiers,” usually meatbone based. Other times they were “fillers,” water with onions, salt and pepper, maybe a stalk or two of celery. The state of the household economy determined which, a filler or a fortifier, the soup was a simmering barometer monitoring our household’s economic pressure. No matter, there was always soup. It was always hot, always filling, always good for you in ways that only a homemade soup can be — up close and caring.

In season, fresh garden vegetables went in the soup. On occasion, some unidentifiable something would be observed floating about but my mother drew the line at Brussels sprouts.

Usually some flavor from a bone would be in evidence, sometimes fuller than others. It could be a ham bone, a beef bone, or a chicken or turkey carcass. There was never any skimming so full flavors were allowed to meld with the soup’s other tastes, whatever they may be. The results were always warm but the flavors varied.

It was for this reason the soup was referred to simply as, “Mother’s soup.” Never was it labeled chicken, or beef, or chicken-rice, or beef-barley, or noodle, or vegetable, or any specific thing. All those flavors could be present — or not.

During the winter, food that had been “put by” went in: navy and kidney beans, potatoes, canned green beans and peas, tomatoes — always canned tomatoes. Seems to me I remember stale bread being added.

Once I put a stone in the soup.

My Father didn’t like soup much. He spent a couple years touring the south Pacific with the army during WWII and had exited too many chow lines with his plate of mutton, rice, and beets topped with a scoop of chocolate pudding. He came home with an aversion to food conglomerations. The soup was certainly that though I don’t recall it ever containing any chocolate pudding.

As noted, I once put a stone in the soup. My mother had set a new batch on the stoop out back to cool. There, it was an invitation to a three-year-old wanting to contribute in some way. Family lore has it the stone went undiscovered for quite a spell — until the kettle was emptied to make way for a totally fresh batch. It seems to me this would occur with the changing of the seasons though I may not be remembering that accurately.

I don’t recall any one commenting negatively about the stone soup’s flavor. I have this vague recollection of adding some leaves as well. If that were the case, then both fiber and minerals were added, things you would pay extra for today. The soup was kept warm in the kitchen stove’s soup well. They were common then; you don’t see them anymore.

People don’t make as much soup as they used to. Maybe folks aren’t home long enough to tend to it or maybe they just don’t have the right app.

Then too, people seem to be under the impression there is always something better to do than make soup. I think they’re mistaken. I think one of the best ways to prepare for the holiday season would be to fortify yourself with homemade soup.

Use a recipe that leaves off the stone.

Doug Pugh’s Vignettes run bi-weekly on Tuesdays. He can be reached via email at