When I first got this book and started to browse, I had a pile of scrap paper to mark ideas, stories and recipes that appealed to me. That effort lasted about ten minutes before I gave up. This beautiful book by Maggie Stuckey is so full of charm, with well-researched recipes, stories of Soup Nights from coast-to-coast, and pictures to make your mouth water with anticipation, that bookmarks are superfluous!
The main thrust of the book is that soup is the perfect vehicle for creating community. Soup Groups are a way to connect to your neighbor, your co-workers or members of your reading group. The history behind the creation of this book is almost as fascinating and inspiring as the recipes themselves. "Stanton Street," in Portland Oregon, is home to the author's brother and his family, and where she first sampled the magic of Soup Nights.
Neighbors. For many, this has become a word buried in the 1950s when you knew your neighbors, their kids, their jobs, and the cars they drove. Yet neighborliness is coming back into vogue. My own daughter and her husband are in charge of their neighborhood watch. In accepting this task, they have expanded the idea of watching out for the neighbors into a genuine community with barbecues, babysitting, housesitting, and help in times of trouble. Stuckey writes about just this.
As she states in her introduction, "Everyone is Invited." Whether you are single, married, a child, a senior, low-income or in comfortable circumstances, you have a place at the table. "Through the simple act of sitting down to a meal together on a regular basis, even people who have very little in common build a genuine relationship," Stuckey muses.
From the explanation of how the mechanics of Soup Night works, to the extras that make soup night original and dynamic, this book will help you create your own neighborhood tradition. I really appreciated the fact that the recipes are, for the most part, written for six servings, with details on how to create variations, how to double (or triple) recipes, how to make ahead and how you can save money when preparing large batches for large crowds. You can learn to set up a soup pantry for yourself, so that a soup can be quickly, nutritiously and enjoyably made.
The first recipe I bookmarked (before I gave up on that task!) was Granny Smith's Sweet Potato Soup. Sweet Potatoes and tart apples seem to be a perfect blend, and I tried this right away. Using Stuckey's advice, I did some of it in advance, cooking the potatoes on one day, the onion, celery and apples on the next, putting the whole thing together on the day I planned to serve it. I applied Stuckey's little sidebar hint, and used white pepper instead of black, to maintain the beauty and color of the sweet potatoes. Oh my. Yumminess personified!
As you read this book, you will see stories about other neighborhoods that have started soup nights, and contributed their recipes. You will also find a lovely array of salads, breads, garnishes and croutons. Cold soups and hot soups are divided into chapters by season, with the appropriate ideas and accompaniments. Cornbread with bean or vegetarian soup creates a flavor palette that won't be forgotten anytime soon.
Create your own Soup Night in your neighborhood, on your block, or in your apartment complex. We need good neighbors now, more than ever. As one Soup Night participant said, "I really believe that if everyone had a Soup Night to go to, there would be no more crime, no more wars."
Maggie Stuckey is a writer who grows vegetables and cooks up a storm in her Portland, Oregon, home. The author of The Bountiful Container and seven other books on gardening and horticulture, she is happiest when tending her vegetable garden and using the outcome to create new soups. Read more on the publisher's website.
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