Once upon a time, in a village not so different from this one, an old woman hobbled into the center of town. She was tired from a long journey and she had eaten everything she had brought with her. Now she was very hungry and she sat down on a park bench wondering where her next meal would come from.
People from the village passed her by and barely even looked at the ragged homeless woman as they hurried about their own business.
“I would love to have a good, hot dinner tonight,” thought the old woman. “But I have no money and I don’t know anyone.”
Then she had an idea.
She called out to the people in the park. “Good people, I am just an old lady in a strange village. I know no one here, but because I can see that you are worthy people, I am going to give you a gift. I am going to teach you how to make stone soup.”
A few people stopped to listen to the old woman.
“To make stone soup,” she said, “we need a pot that can go on a fire.”
One man, who was very skeptical but curious about how this was going to go built a fire and brought a large pot to put on the fire. Someone else found a way to fill it with water. The old woman reached into her pocket and took out several stones she had found along the way, ceremoniously washed them and put them in the pot.
“Don’t you think any soup would be better with some salt and pepper?” the old woman asked, and some children who were playing at the park ran home to fetch salt and pepper.
“Stones make good soup, but carrots would make it so much better,” the old woman mused. One woman standing the crowd looked in the bag of groceries she carried.
“Why, I think I have a carrot or two!” She handed them to the old woman.
Another woman in the park found an onion and still another brought a parsnip to the old woman.
“A good stone soup should have some cabbage, but no use asking for what we don’t have!” mused the old lady. A grocer who was passing by said, “I think I can probably find some cabbage,” and off he went to get a head of cabbage.
The old woman nodded and thought. “If only we had a bit of beef and some potatoes, this soup would be fit for a rich man’s table.” A butcher thought it over and brought her a very inexpensive slice of beef shank on the bone that he was getting ready to throw away.
No one in the park had any potatoes, but one woman remembered a jar of barley she had put away on a shelf in her pantry. She brought the barley to the park.
The crowd that had gathered were getting excited. Some of them ran to fetch small items they had stored in their cellars and pantries and gardens: old mashed up tomatoes and mushrooms and garlic and parsley and a little oregano – even a big ladle, soup bowls, and some spoons.
By now the local TV station had heard about what was happening in the park and they sent a reporter and cameras to cover the magic of someone making a rich man’s soup – and all from a few stones. It seemed like magic.
After some time had passed, the old woman stirred the soup. She smiled and spoke softly.
“The soup is ready,” she said, “and we will all taste it, but first we need to set the tables.” Tables and torches were set up in the park, and everyone sat down to eat.
Some of the peasants said, “Such a great soup would be better with bread and cider,” some of the people who were watching this on television brought forth the last two items. Musicians showed up and started to play and everyone in the park enjoyed the banquet.
None of them had ever tasted such a feast. The soup was delicious, and to think it was all made from stones! The people in the village, along with the old woman, ate and drank and danced well into the night.
What You Need to Make Stone Soup
What you need depends on what you have, Fellow FoodBeest – or what people in the park provide! Here’s what I used. Use it as a guideline, not a rule.
2 beef shank slices
2 T olive oil or cooking spray or bacon grease or duck fat
7-8 C water
1 onion, chopped
2 large or three medium carrots, chopped
1 large parsnip, chopped
¼ lb sliced mushrooms
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 C sliced cabbage (I used Napa cabbage, but any kind is ok)
½ C barley (or two or three cut up potatoes)
2 T tomato paste
2 t dried oregano
salt and pepper
How to Make Stone Soup
The old lady in the park just put everything in the pot of water, but here’s what I recommend.
I heated 1 T olive oil over medium heat and browned the beef shanks. Then I put the browned shanks in a soup (or stock) pot with 7 C water. I brought it to a boil, reduced the heat and let it simmer for about 45 minutes while the beef began to get tender.
Then I heated the other tablespoon of olive oil (or you can use cooking spray for more skinny or bacon grease or duck fat for more flavor) and I sautéed first the onion, carrots and parsnip until they began to get soft. Then I added the garlic, mushrooms cabbage, tomato paste and oregano and continued to cook everything together for a minute or two.
I put the cooked veggie mixture into the stock pot along with the barley (or potatoes), the bay leaf, a few whole peppercorns and a couple of teaspoons of salt. Don’t underestimate how much salt you will need to make this taste good. Keep tasting.
Bring the pot back to a boil, reduce the heat and just let it do its magic for about another hour. If it is too thick, you can add more water.
Take the meat out, remove it from the bones. If there is marrow in the bones, be sure to put it back in the pot. Break up the meat into bite-sized pieces with two forks and put it back in the pot as well.
Serve your stone soup to everyone in the park – or at the table. Feast and enjoy, Fellow FoodBeest. And remember that this soup, if there is anything left, will be better tomorrow. Hurray for leftovers!