Election Section

Soup, Glorious Soup By Claudia Pessin

Friday December 30, 2005

For the first 11 years of my life I lived in a small town outside Newport, Delaware, which was on the map, but barely bigger that the bedroom community where I lived. Winters were severely cold, rarely more than six or seven inches of snow, but often freezing rain. When the ground froze, no mother would dream of keeping a child home, and certainly not for a little ice or snow. Schools didn’t close for weather in those days, and since there were few automobiles, we were in no danger from traffic. The trackless trolleys continued their routes, and most used them to get to work. 

On days when the streets and sidewalks were glazed with ice, we were expected to—and did—walk the mile and a quarter or so to the grade school in Newport, spending more time on our well-bundled bottoms than on our feet. We didn’t feel put-upon though, but accepted this as the status quo. And there were usually compensations when we got home: cocoa and fresh-baked cookies, or cake, because winter seemed to bring out the urge to bake in our mothers. But my favorite was coming in with wet and icy mittens and snowsuit, and smelling vegetable soup simmering on the stove. 

Mother had a large pot, called a waterless cooker, that had removable compartments for vegetables that could hold a complete meal of meat and sides and cook them together. But I only recall Mamma using it as an enormous stockpot for soup. As I sat by the kitchen table warming up and doing my homework the fragrance of that soup made my mouth water, and long before it was finished I would be begging my mother for just a small bowl full. I didn’t care if it was done or not, I simply could not wait. Of course she refused, and by dinnertime when Daddy came home, I felt I could eat the entire contents of the pot, though usually two bowls were more than enough for my small self. 

When my mother died, this pot was one of the few things she had that I really wanted, and I often used it to make enough soup to freeze and some to give away. The problem was that I had learned to make it from watching her, and her method was a pinch of this and a handful or two of that. And how do you divide pinches and handfuls so you can reduce a recipe? 

Over the years, I did tinker with her recipe a bit, adding a bit of this and omitting a handful of that. But I continued to make this soup pretty much her way in this pot until my children were grown and I no longer could figure out what to do with such a great quantity of soup. So I gave the pot to my younger daughter who wanted it to cook soup in for her family. She had learned to cook Mamma’s vegetable soup by watching me throughout the years, and in her turn tinkered with it to suit her family, and had more than enough for her freezer and some to give away. She always pulled out that pot on the first cold day of winter, as I had, and put up a pot of soup early in the day, and her daughters came home in from school to the same homey fragrance that I and a generation later, my own children had enjoyed. 

Recently though, she decided that the pot was just too big and bought a somewhat smaller one and adjusted her recipe accordingly. But what to do with her grandmother’s pot? She didn’t have the heart to discard it and it sat for months in her cupboard until the adult daughter of my elder daughter, recently married, heard of the dilemma and claimed the pot for her own. 

It pleases me that my granddaughter is now making vegetable soup using Mamma’s recipe and her pot. It pleases me too to think that in a few years yet another generation will be coming home from school on a cold day and be met with the fragrance of that same soup. 

And I am certain it would have pleased my mother.?