Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Feb. 3, 2012

Soup's on!

It was just one little item in the paper, but it got me going. "Want to warm up January? Try some soup." That was the Manhattan Mercury headline over the article by 4-H youth development agent Andrea Schmidt.

I didn't really need to warm up much since we'd had record warm temperatures, but I do like soup. Or maybe it struck me because just a few days before, I had made ham and bean soup at youngest daughter Katie's request.

I had kept the ham bone from our Christmas Day dinner in the freezer until I was in the mood to use it. For fun, I bought a bag with 15 varieties of beans - including lima beans, garbanzos, lentils, kidney beans, black beans, green split peas and even cranberry beans. I soaked them overnight and then cooked them with the ham bone for two hours the next day.

As it was simmering, I thought of how my late mother-in-law Donna would be pleased if she was with us. Married just as the Depression began, it made her try to get the last bit of good from everything. So using the ham bone definitely would have made her smile.

With the slow cooking done, I added onion, diced tomatoes, chili powder, garlic and lemon juice and cooked it another 30 minutes. Paired with hot cornbread, it was hard to beat.

But after reading the newspaper piece, I wanted to learn more about my favorite winter food, so I checked out "soup" at foodtimeline.org and found all kinds of interesting tidbits.

According to the site, the origin of the word comes from the Latin verb "suppare" (soak.) From it came "suppa," which passed into Old French as "soupe." This meant both a piece of bread soaked in liquid and the broth poured over the bread. Similar words in other languages include the Italian "zuppa," the German "Suppe" and the Spanish "sopa."

All the reading about soup made me hungry!

But the word isn't used only to refer to the food. "Alphabet soup" refers to any situation involving a large number of acronyms. "Pea soup" describes a dense fog. "Duck soup" is a task that is easy. "Soup it up" means to increase the power of something.

I then skipped to the Campbell Soup Company's website and discovered that John T. Dorrance invented condensed soup 115 years ago and that Americans now eat about 2.5 billion bowls of Campbell's Tomato, Chicken Noodle and Cream of Mushroom soups each year. I know our family does its part. Mixing a can of cream of mushroom soup with green beans is one of daughter Mariya's favorites. Cans of tomato soup are an essential ingredient in various family casseroles. We eat many others - vegetable, potato, chili, French onion, New England clam chowder and Chinese egg drop soup. The list goes on.

When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador, people served fanesca - a special soup made only during Easter week. How it is prepared varies from one region of Ecuador to another, but its primary ingredients are salt cod and 12 different kinds of beans and grains to represent the 12 apostles of Jesus. It is generally served with sliced hard-cooked eggs and fried plantains and sometimes empanadas or avocado slices.

I located several recipes online, but knew it was unlikely I'd be making it any time soon. It sounded complicated and, for me, making soup should be easy.

In fact, that's one of the reasons I like soup so much. It's something I can make using whatever I have available in my kitchen cabinets and refrigerator. Or said another way, I can use anything from "soup to nuts."

A fading picture I took in Ecuador during Holy Week in 1976. Perhaps folks went home and had fanesca after the ceremony.

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