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An Exaltation of Soups: The Soul-Satisfying Story of Soup, As Told in More Than 100 Recipes Paperback – December 28, 2004
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Solley's passionate compendium of history, folklore, literary references and recipes collects tidbits about and recipes for soup from all over the world. The author, who runs the SoupSong.com Web site, shares proverbs and quotes about soup's famed comforting qualities, and recipes for stocks, which are the foundation of all soups. She looks at the role soups can play in life's key moments: e.g., French "Boiled Water" Garlic Soup is traditionally served to convalescing new mothers; Guatemalan Lamb Soup with Tamales, with its robust, meaty content, is reserved for weddings and other fancy occasions; and Irish Cottage Broth for the Wake is "enough to bring the dead back to life." Next come "soups of purpose," that is, ones that supposedly assist in weight loss (Cabbage Soup), appetite stimulation (Creamy Crab and Cognac Soup) and healing (Fava Bean Soup from Egypt). There are also recipes to foster love (Lobster Sweetheart Soup) or cure a hangover (Beer Soup from Denmark). The clear and generally simple recipes are enhanced by informative and descriptive head notes; sidebars on such topics as the use of almonds as an aphrodisiac or the history of Japanese soy sauce; literary quotations and extracts; and personal stories.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
About the Author
When not running the SoupSong.com website or putting out her monthly soup newsletter, Patricia Solley is chief of Research Communications and Public Relations for the FBI. She lives in Falls Church, Virginia.
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In the spirit of being much more about the lore of soups than a culinary exploration as you will find in culinary specialists James Peterson and Barbara Kafka, the recipes are not organized by season or ingredient or thick versus thin or smooth versus chunky. They are organized by use. How do we human inventors of cooking over 10,000 years ago use this food preparation called soup?
The first Part of four (4) is `Soup Basics'. It does not deal with soup cooking so much as with a speculative history of the origins of soup, a collection of soup proverbs and clichés, a small collection of stories about soup, and recipes for soup stocks. This includes seven basic stock recipes plus a technique for clarifying stock and a technique for concentrating stock. While this collection has several stocks you may not easily find elsewhere such as a Hungarian chicken stock and a Japanese fish stock, all the recipes are relatively simple. Simpler, for sure, than what you may find from the CIA (Culinary Institute of America, not the foreign colleague of the FBI) textbook or cooking experts such as Jeremiah Tower or Judy Rodgers. They are much simpler than expert soup specialists such as Seattle's Michael Congdon, the author of the new recipe collection, `S.O.U.P.S'. But then, this book is not so much about cooking soups as soup's place in the goings and comings of various human communities.
The second Part is `Soups of Passage'. Here is where the book comes into its own, as we are given recipes for various important events in our lives, or at least in the lives of members of some very important cultures. The four `passages' represented here are birth, confirmation, marriage, and death. It is no surprise that the largest selection by far are those recipes developed to celebrate marriage, including the famous Italian wedding soup with meatballs. Oddly, I seem to recall that the name of this soup with meatballs has less to do with a human wedding as it does with the wedding of ingredients.
The third Part is `Soups of Purpose'. Here, unlike the preceding and following chapters, the soup recipes are constructed to accomplish a specific culinary objective, so that there is a connection between ingredients and cooking techniques and the soup's use other than simply tradition. The most famous of this breed is the `Les Halle Onion Soup', which I had the pleasure of sampling at a Les Halle bistro in Paris at 5:00 AM, along with the traditional glass of red wine. The author recounts a tale from Harold Pinter about the playwright's ending a night of carousing in Paris at a similar open air market bistro with fellow playwright Samuel Beckett, who was kind enough to let Pinter slip into a slumber with head on table while Beckett retrieved a large glass of water and bicarbonate of soda. Unfortunately, Ms. Solley says nothing about the tradition of red wine with the onion soup.
The last and longest Part is `Soups of Piety and Ritual'. Unlike the second chapter, these are all soups dealing with a particular date or holiday that occurs every year. The holidays so honored are New Years Day, St. Tavy's Day (represented by a leek soup celebrating a Welsh saint), Eastertide (including soups for the carnival at the beginning of Lent, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, Jewish Festivals (including soups for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Passover), Islamic Festivals (Ramadan and Eid Al Fitr), Christmas, and Kwanzaa. I am really pleased to see recipes for Islamic festivals appear in an English book for general audiences. This is the second such book I have seen. The first is Nigella Lawson's new book `Feast'. It is great fun to see how important the soup borsht is, as at least two different recipes, one Russian and one Jewish, appear in the book.
Aside from the fun to be found in reading the sidebars, headnotes, and other commentary about soup, the most useful function of this book would be as a source of recipes to fit various events in one's life. Many writers make a great deal of how food brings people together over the dinner table. This benefit is doubled if one can prepare dishes behind which there are centuries of tradition. While bread can probably outdo soup as a type of food that is most heavily wrapped in tradition, soup certainly seems to have the edge on most other types of cooking. What makes this especially useful in this context is that almost all the recipes are relatively easy. This being the case, there is some chance that these are not the very best recipes possible for these dishes. But, the book has still served its purpose if you are looking for an Italian Lenten soup and you find `Minestrone di magro'. If you are not satisfied with Ms. Solley's recipe, you can always fetch a copy of a recipe from Marcella Hazan or Lydia Bastianich. At least if you don't have a cookbook for foods of the Middle East, you at least have these five Arab influenced recipes for Ramadan.
One feature where Ms. Solley really missed the boat was in her not including a bibliography of other books on soup recipes. The book ends with all her literary credits in place, but no citations of good books on Soup. So, only four stars for this omission and to alert potential buyers that this book is more about lore than about gourmet cooking.
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