Wednesday Night Supper: Good Soup for Good

A couple of weeks ago, I did something I’ve been wanting to do for a while: I paid for the privilege of making soup.

It was a sunny Tuesday evening when I pulled up in front of the cooking studio and went in by myself. Inside were about 25 or 30 other women and two men–a group of Soup Sisters and a pair of Broth Brothers.

Soup Sisters is an international organization that began only a few years ago when Calgarian Sharon Hapton decided to celebrate her 50th birthday by inviting a group of friends to help make vats of soup that would be distributed to youth and women’s shelters in her city. The birthday party quickly became a movement that spread because like Sharon Hapton and like Daisy Turner in Ithaca, there are a lot of people who believe in the power of soup as a nurturing and nourishing gesture.

Most of the other people attending the Soup Sisters/Broth Brothers night in Waterloo had come with friends, but the organizers kindly placed those of us who were on our own in the middle of the long table at which we sipped wine and ate hors d’oeuvres. Very quickly people began talking to one another and making friends.

We were then invited to watch the owner of the chef studio review knife skills with us. I learned that essentially I have always been doing everything wrong. That was my main takeaway from the lesson, because once I got a knife into my hands, I forgot most of the techniques she had taught us.

There was then a short presentation from representatives of two local shelters who talked about their work and the difference that receiving soup made. Operating on slim budgets with relatively few staff, having soup arrive each month meant a significant reduction in both their operating costs and the time available for staff to do other essential services.

We were then invited to wash our hands, put on aprons and join the soup group that was listed on our name tags. Each group was set up at a different station around the room, with a Soup Sisters volunteer at each station to make sure we kept all our digits and to encourage us as we chopped and stirred. I ended up with the two Broth Brothers and eventually the young male dishwasher who was working on site. I hadn’t expected to talk rugby at a Soup Sisters event, but we talked rugby as we peeled and chopped carrots, celery and onions for the twenty litres of Hamburger Soup we made.

One tip I do recall from the evening was that adding a pinch of salt after each ingredient is added to a soup is a better approach than adding a spoonful of salt at the end. It layers the flavour into the soup and ends up requiring less salt and having less of a specifically salty taste than it would if salt was a late addition to the pot.

While our soups simmered, we tidied up and then went back to the table for more wine and conversation while the Soup Sisters volunteers served us salad and bread and then a bowl of soup, made by one of the groups.

After we finished eating, we went back to our stations, taste-tested and then ladled soup into large vats, and labeled the containers with our names, the names of the soup and the ingredients we had used.

Soup Sisters is a nonprofit organization and the $55 registration fee covers the cost of the cooking studio rental, the ingredients and the food we ate. The price had initially seemed slightly steep to me–I could make soup in my own home for less–but I hadn’t counted on the sense of community and the convivial pleasure of the evening. The conversation around the table was excellent, too. I decided afterward that the kind of people who would be attracted to such an event would be people who had an interest in the world and making it a better place. Then too, making and eating soup together really does create community.

Such evenings happen monthly in 23 communities across Canada and one so far in the US. Spaces are limited and often competitive. Since March 2009, more than half a million servings of soup have been made and distributed across Canada. I was part of the making of 75 of those litres.

If you are able, I recommend you become a Soup Sister or Broth Brother for an evening too.

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