Does anyone not like soup? Stop here and read no further.
Before I go further in this review, I’ll start with the disclaimer: these are my cousin’s books, and therefore I might be presumed to be more than a little biased. That said, bluntly, this is the sort of book people never hear about unless there’s some sort of personal or prior connection–a family member or one of the people who attended the soup nights–and I think it deserves more attention…because it’s a decent cookbook. I won’t blog about books I haven’t read, and I never buy books I don’t like and won’t use; this book is both.
The Soup and Bread project started almost exactly two years ago, in the depths of a Chicago winter in the depths of an equally cold recession that left a good many Chicago residents unemployed or underemployed and hurting for some way to socialize that didn’t require Great Financial Expenditures1. My cousin and her acquaintances started bringing crockpots of soup, and occasionally bread, to a local bar, the Hideout. While not a soup kitchen in the sense of providing free food to the destitute, the group encouraged people to come and partake and to give what they could, whether a dollar or a $20 or nothing at all; no one was turned away and they didn’t check who’d contributed. All proceeds were donated to various food assistance groups around Chicago, a different one each week. The idea for a cookbook came originally simply to answer the repeated question “Have you got the recipe for that yummy soup?” and involved pinning a number of freethinking hipsters through Chicago down to specific proportions and measurements, some more successfully than others. It was a self funded self-publication, but unlike many purely vanity press publications, this one was deliciously useful.
The soups in the first book are an interesting blend of cultures and cuisines, ranging from meat-laden indulgences to vegan delights2, kimchee to collard greens. I haven’t tried everything yet, but I can particularly recommend the mock turtle and lamb french onion soups. My one real complaint is that some of the recipes assume access to a metropolitan food supply which can provide ingredients such as ‘mulefoot’ pork from heritage pigs, but even that’s not insurmountable in today’s more cosmopolitan world, mail order being what it is. My copy’s getting stained and battered, and I’m looking forward to starting all over again now that the soup season’s started anew in the Great Lakes regions.
Unfortunately for those not in the know, the original collection is no longer in print, though it never was as “in print” as even the smallest runs from mainstream presses. Fortunately for soup lovers, the second season’s soup recipes are now collected in a book which, it is to be hoped, gets a slightly larger run and larger mainstream exposure. Even better, it’s available on Amazon, although as a proponent of smaller independent bookstores (and [gasp] libraries!) I’d suggest bugging your local bookstore to carry same and your library to try interlibrary loaning same3.
Never enough soup, I say!
1and, not surprisingly, many more flat out destitute and homeless
2several soups are vegan while others can be tweaked to eliminate dairy elements
3I hope older readers will forgive me for humming a few bars of Alice’s Restaurant here–can you imagine fifty people a day walking into a bookstore or library and demanding a few recipes from this cookbook?