I heard my mom say it: "She's so curious, she's going to get herself hurt." Ninna said: "Oh, she's just learnin' things, best we let her alone so she can learn." And Mom: "You mark my word, she's gonna get herself in a mess she can't get out of." I reckon they thought I didn't have ears that worked.
Somehow I survived, and lived to tell about it, contrary to my mother's worst predictions. My curiosity remained intact, too, and sometimes overwhelms my better judgment. I studied too much history in school, got too many worthless degrees in ancient cultures, but goodness, did I ever find answers to some of my own questions. Take vegetable soup, for example. Those very ancient folks didn't have pots and pans, nor did they have stores just around the corner where they could buy them.
Those earliest folks ate raw vegetables and raw meat right off the bone, well, at least until one of them invented fire. Then they cooked what they ate off the end of a stick, not out of a bowl or even a paper plate. There were no utensils either, so imagine this: they dug a little rounded pit, built a little fire, and laid the meat and root vegetables right on the heat of whatever was burning. Still no soup.
At that point I am sure it was every man for himself as he ran scared from the animal and ran hungrily after it at about the same time. It might have been a wooly mammoth, or a saber toothed tiger, but run he did, and in both directions. If he was successful, he was joined by those who helped him beat it to death, chop it up, gouge it out, and save every bit of it. The fur made clothes to keep them warm, the bones made weapons so they could hunt again, the meat made food so that they could survive, but still no soup, because there was nothing to cook it in.
I think it might have been something like this: there was a bladder in that animal, and when those ancients were going on long journeys in hopes of finding food or warmth or even water, I think they used the bladder for carrying much needed water that might have been hard to find. Or perhaps they made a pouch from the skin of the animal, and carried water in it. One thing led to another and maybe one day the water was frozen and they hung it close to the fire so that it would thaw. The water inside the pouch would keep it from being burned by the fire. And what if they had stored chunks of meat in that water, it thawed too, and with the thawing came cooking and a whole new flavor. Not only was the meat a little easier to chew but it had a flavored sauce with it. Voila, perhaps it was the first soup. Of course the problem still remained, no bowls, but use your imagination, they had to eat it some way, and I am very sure they did. So now early man had created an entirely new universe, he could grab his food, he could cook it, and with a little water added, he had opened up a whole new world of flavors and textures. A few grains added, a couple of root vegetables, and the world has a new cuisine, a new dining experience.
I have it on good authority that my Scots/Irish ancestors were still using sheepskin kettles in 16th century Britain. Of course there is another recorded method, and that is the use of heated stones. You dig a pit, line it with large leaves, the tastier the better, fill it with water and chunks of root vegetables and meat. Stones are being heated in a separate pit, and as they heat, they are continually being placed in the water pit, heating up the water and its flavorful contents. I am sure it took a while, but with an entire little community working over the pit, they had a tasty meal in a relatively short time. Soup!
Following the Ice Age and the glacial melting, vast fields of wild grains sprang up. Quite probably so did beans. Can you imagine the look on the face of those ancients when they discovered what heat and a little water did for the flavor of grains and beans? They released starch into the broth, and made it thicken. Flavored by the meat, and quite possibly a little newly found salt, maybe a bay leaf or two, and I am making myself hungry again. That is the problem with writing about comfort foods, cravings creep in.
In the days of Esau, that "mess of pottage" was lentil soup, so we know that beans have been an established part of the world cuisine at least as far back as Old Testament history. And that leads us on to wheat and bread so hardened without preservatives that it could only be softened by pouring broth over it. Soup. Now see where my curiosity took me, far away and long ago, and I took you with me every step of the way. I am no authority on soups, but based on my old studies of ancient cultures, I can see how it could happen, and probably did.
We have it very lucky. By their resourcefulness, our ancestors invented it all for us, and we don't have to do a thing but enjoy it. I have mentioned often enough in other articles that I don't eat very much meat, but here is a basic recipe that contains all my favorite soup items, sans meat of course, but the meat could easily be added. There was a time when meat was not always available when I was growing up, and since I was already well known for my curiosity, no one objected when I watched every move that was made in the kitchen. This recipe is from my Granny Ninna's writings:
6 cups of broth (chicken or beef broth can be used here, mixed with tomato juice or any vegetable juice and enough water to make 6 cups)
a couple of large chopped potatoes
a few carrots
diced sweet onion
a diced green pepper
green beans if available
about a half cup of lima beans
half cup of black beans
another half cup of corn
black pepper, just a large sprinkle to taste
salt, another couple of pinches
one or two bay leaves
Saute' the onion and pepper till soft in a large pot with a lid (Ninna sauteed in bacon grease)
Add the broth to the saute' mix and heat till close to a boil
Add potatoes, beans and corn
Add salt and pepper, and simmer for about 45 minutes or until beans are done
Remove about 2 cups of mix, mash till very thick (puree' in a blender, Ninna didn't have one)
Return to pot, turn off heat cover and let set for an hour to blend the flavors.
Sprinkle a little cheese on top of each serving, and enjoy it with cornbread. It is even better the second time around.
Thanks for taking this little imaginary journey through time with me. Maybe it is all in my mind, just a figment of my insatiable curiosity, but what if it did happen that way? I guess we will never know for sure, now will we?
All photos in this article are my own, as are the recipe and the imagination. The photos of my vegetable paintings now belong to Bluekat76, and my thanks to her for their use again.
Thanks to my friend and fellow writer, Marna Towne, for her much needed help with this new computer!