What often works is a good soup

After a delicious Thanksgiving dinner — we even had mashed potatoes and gravy, an extravagance now seldom allowed — I was assigned the task of removing residual meat from the turkey carcass.

This I did until only small measures of succulence remained tucked here and there in nooks and crannies my carving knife could not reach.

No problem.

What did it matter if I abandoned my gleaning efforts? We had plenty of leftovers.

But I am my mother’s son, she a survivor of the Great Depression, and I knew what she would say: “Waste not, want not.”

Then — who knows from where it came — a word appeared in my consciousness: “Soup.”

I turned hopefully to my wife, “Soup?”

“Go for it!” she replied. Not the response I’d hoped for.

We don’t own a dark blue, white-speckled, chipped porcelain-clad steel pot with an ill-fitting lid. I would have to make do with one of stainless steel whose cover fit.

It was into that stainless pot I placed the turkey carcass, its giblets (less the liver), along with chunked celery, carrots, onions, and seasonings that, when brought to a full boil and allowed to simmer, filled our home with fragrances freshly remembered.

I allowed this broth to simmer for a while.

After being relieved of its remaining meat, the carcass and giblets were discarded, as were the flavor-depleted celery, onions, and carrots. The latter three replaced with fresh; the turkey meat reintroduced and noodles added.

All this to a boil again, eventually down to a simmer, a little of this, a little of that added. It came out OK.

But my mother’s soup was better; she possessed a skill common to women who lived through the Depression. Her soup gave young people the energy to do what needed to be done and assisted older folks with their need to settle.

The soup was multifaceted and always standing by.

When demand for the soup exceeded its supply, something would be added. What that something was varied. Sometimes it would be fresh and new, but more often than not, leftovers were the heart and soul of it.

If there were nothing new and no leftovers, various broths would be employed. Sometimes these broths were fortifiers — usually, bone-based. Other times they were fillers — water with onions and salt and pepper, maybe a stalk of celery.

The state of the household economy determined which — a filler or a fortifier. The soup was a simmering barometer of 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.

Fresh garden vegetables went into the soup in season, but my mother drew the line at Brussels sprouts.

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.

Though some flavor often predominated, the soup was simply “Mother’s soup.” Never was it called chicken, beef, barley, noodle, vegetable — or any other limiting appellation.

Once, I put a stone in the soup.

My father didn’t like soup much. He spent a couple of years touring the South Pacific with the Army in World War II and had exited too many chow lines with his plate of mutton, rice, and beets topped with a scoop of chocolate pudding. Understandably, he came home with an aversion to food conglomerations. My mother’s soup was 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 a stoop out back to cool — an invitation to a three-year-old wishing to contribute in some way. Family lore has it the stone went unnoticed — until the kettle was emptied to make way for a totally fresh batch.

I don’t recall anyone commenting negatively about the stone soup’s flavor. I have this vague recollection of adding some leaves, as well. If that were the case, the soup had both fiber and minerals added, things you would pay extra for today.

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

Then too, people seem to believe there are more important things to do than make soup. I think they’re mistaken. Good soup is an excellent way to prepare for the holiday season, promoting a general calming and a consequent settling of dispositions; not to mention — its flavors are real.

If you do — make soup — probably best to leave off the stone.

Doug Pugh’s “Vignettes” runs weekly on Saturdays. He can be reached at pughda@gmail.com.


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