Soup Night: Recipes for Creating Community Around a Pot of Soup, by Maggie Stuckey (Storey Publishing, 2013) isn’t a gardening book—though its author has two garden books to her credit and gardeners will love the ways these recipes incorporate garden produce. It isn’t exclusively a cookbook either—though it has some very tasty recipes. Soup Night is a cookbook with a purpose—to build community understanding and coherence by encourage neighbors to gather for meals.
The book began when the author heard about a monthly “soup night” held on a street in Portland, Ore. Once a month, the neighbors gather for soup and conversation. Hosting duties are divided up (usually at a once-a-year block party) and the host makes two big pots of soup — one with meat, one without. Beyond that, the rules are simple and flexible. Guests come whenever they want between 6 and 8 p.m.; they can contribute wine, bread, a dessert or salad, or not if they aren’t able to; and everyone brings their own bowls and flatware, so the host does not have to do a vat of dishes. Not everyone makes it every month, and that is fine. This simple low-key event has done much to cement relationships in the neighborhood, making it friendlier and safer.
From that first gathering, Stuckey discovered soup nights all over the country, from Houston to Milwaukee, New York to San Francisco. The book celebrates those neighborly gatherings and encourages others to start their own soup nights. She does this with stories about the soup nights she’s visited and recipes that lead soup makers (and gardeners) through the seasons.
For cold winter nights like the ones we’ve had recently, Stuckey offers recipes for a beef stew topped with coleslaw, red lentil soup (delicious!), potato-wild rice soup and a beautiful butternut squash soup. In spring, the soups are lighter: asparagus and pea, sherried mushroom. As a gardener, the late summer and fall soups look especially appealing: strawberry gazpacho with berries, tomatoes and cucumbers and a corn chowder with potatoes, leeks and cream.
The soup recipes are supplemented by recipes for breads, salads and desserts, all from the folks who host soup nights around the country.
Does your neighborhood host something like a soup night?