Metaphors in the Soup Pot

If it’s fall, it’s time for soup!

Fall calls us to come inside, take those wools and warm socks from the bottom drawer. When dark comes earlier in the day, soup calls.

The story of a good soup – in its early round pots or in today’s shiny all-clad flat bottom brands – remains a favorite topic of story writers everywhere.

When the aroma of fresh vegetables simmering for a soup fills any everyday kitchen, the aroma signals a sigh and feeling of “coming home.” That familiar smell brings a kind of satisfaction and reassurance about food and eating of course. But it’s also a satisfaction about life in general. A pot of soup and a good story can do that.

Soup stirs up the literary in us.

The soup pot and melting pot are often used interchangeably as over-worked metaphors of two seemingly opposite truths:

• The ingredients in soup can be stewed together and processed into one thick and tasty liquid – like the melting pot soup image of the early days of America.

• Or, ingredients, like vegetables, can he added to a broth, remain distinct, and all the while contribute to the rich overall flavors in the soup. This version is also called America’s melting pot but with respect for its many distinct contributions.

Soup pots make for a popular metaphor because there have been stories and myths about food created (or concocted) in a large pot – probably since time began. And food has always been a popular topic for stories, whether telling, reading, or watching a story.

Ancient storytellers composed myths to conjure up ways to answer the big questions – why is the sky blue, why are seas salty? Any one of these myths about salt, while outrageously illogical, leave one with a new respect for the magic of this simple compound element of salt. No soup can get along without it.

Perhaps not praising the wonders of salt, still the poet Owen Meredith praised the power of good food back in 1860:

We may live without friends; we may live without books;

But civilized man cannot live without cooks.

He may live without love – what is passion but pining?

But where is the man that can live without dining?

Old soup pots, with round bottoms are making a comeback here and there today. And old soup stories are even more plentiful. There must be thousands of versions of Stone Soup – told in schools, churches, homes – all because of the sense of community that making soup creates.

Current day food writer, Calvin Trillin, used one of his stories to present his full-blown campaign for making “Spaghetti Carbonara” the national food over the customary turkey on Thanksgiving. In his story, Trillin supplies hilarious supporting evidence in his descriptions of Christopher Columbus, being from Genoa and all, relishing the fine taste for cheese, pancetta bacon, and pasta.

Stories spring up in kitchens. Stories land in the middle of dinner-table conversations. A natural conversation starter is usually “may I have the recipe for this delicious dish?” But while an excellent recipe is a treasure, it’s the story around it that is most entertaining and enlightening.

Next time you concoct a soup, tell your family a story. Or read one – Calvin Trillin’s “Spaghetti Carbonara” is a good starter.

Or, read the old food story told by eighteenth century English essayist, Charles Lamb about the history of roasting pig. His story delights in describing a certain eldest son of a Chinese man – 60 or 70 thousand years ago – accidentally setting fire to the pig house and delighting in licking his fingers after pulling a pig out of the fire. Accidental fires could not continue to be the only way to roast pigs, so soon people started scooping out iron and molding it into cauldron and pots.

Jacqueline M. Faulkner

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