Soup’s on

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I believe in the power of soup.

To heal

To hug

To fill the (w)hole.

Soup is the universal symbol of caring for others and we encounter it in all phases of our lives. I am currently in the soupmaking phase of my life, but there was once a time (and I still appreciate it) that a bowl of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup meant that I was “under the weather” and deserved extra care. I have to say it is a little weird to have to make your own chicken soup, so I have learned at the first sign of a sniffle, I check my freezer supply of chicken soup and immediately stock up (a little soup humor there).

Soup is a universal comfort food and in most parts of the world, including those in hot climates, soup is usually part of the main meal of the day. Sopa del dia is one of the courses served as comida corrida in a restaurant in Mexico to a hungry lunch crowd. Like the hot and sour or egg drop or wonton soup choice at an American Chinese restaurant, soup is automatically part of a fixed price meal deal. But with comida corrida, you may not get a choice, and even if you ask, you are likely to get the Gringo answer of pollo, no matter what you find floating in your soup. Although it could very well be a chicken claw.

Soup is also the way to stretch ingredients or in 21st century lingo, “to minimize food waste”. Vegetable ends (onions, carrots, celery, peppers) and a few cups of tap water (spigot stock) make an excellent veggie soup starter. Those veggie ends can still find their way into the compost heap after being strained out of the stock. And speaking of waist, that veggie soup counts as zero points towards your WW quota. A dieter’s secret weapon. Soup can be filling with few calories.

As my friends and anyone who dares sneeze within my range of hearing knows, I make a lot of soup. I am an everything-but- the-kitchen-sink soup maker. To me, more is better with soup. Everybody wants to know the secret ingredient for great soup. According to family legend, my grandmother, another prolific soup maker, always added an apple to her soup. I have found that an apple can magically balance a soup’s flavor between sweet and salty. For me, there is not one single ingredient but a great variety of ingredients to build a tasty soup. I am constantly in search of unusual soup ingredients and find Asian grocery stores to be particularly fruitful. Miso or tamari add umami and salt. Mushroom powder from dried shitake or kombu (a dried seaweed) give body to even the thinnest broth. Of course, cultures that have been making soup in the same way for thousands of years would have a few tricks in their pantry. My insta-cooker makes year-round soup-making possible as its sealed lid does not heat up the house in the summer or let those wonderful soup smells fill the house in the winter.

But in these times of hunger, our community’s soup kitchens truly manifest the power of soup. The soup kitchens in Cortez offer the dignity of a sit-down meal to anyone that needs it, every weekday (and a sack lunch on Saturday). Consistent with the tradition that started during the depression a century ago, it is the local churches that support our soup kitchens. Although notorious gangsters, like Al Capone, reportedly ran soup kitchens in Chicago during his reign there. It doesn’t matter who organizes or makes the soup, it is the act of providing a meal to someone who is hungry in a safe, warm place to eat in the company of other diners.

I would be remiss if I left out the obvious soup analogy – Chicken Soup for the Soul meme. However, the secret ingredient to providing extra care to a soul is not a book, notecard, or dish towel purchase. It is extending yourself to recognize that we are all under the weather of this pandemic and we must care for each other. Whether it is a donation to one of our soup kitchens or volunteering your time to help prepare or serve a meal or even just sending a silent blessing or measure of care to those you see entering or leaving the kitchens, these small gestures are the secret ingredients to a community with a heart-y soup culture. Let our community motto be: Soup’s on!

Carolyn Dunmire gardens, cooks, and writes from Cahone, Colo.

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From Carolyn Dunmire.