Culinary Sleuth

by Lynn Kerrigan


Stone Soup


"Stone Soup," the folk tale showing how small contributions by many people can produce miracles, has been circulating for awhile with no author attribution, though two authors published children's versions of this charming tale. And, depending on who does the telling, you'll find numerous variations of the story. One depicts the main character(s) as a hobo, another as a revolutionary soldier and a third as weary travelers seeking food during a time of famine.

It doesn't matter which version you read—all carry the same message, and it's an especially heartwarming story around the holidays when our robust economy often makes us think that everyone is as well off as we are.

Here then is yet another version of the Stone Soup saga and a recipe as well.

Stone SoupDuring the Great Depression, Joe and Mary, a young married couple abandoned their Oklahoma farm to travel west in hopes of finding food, work and a better life. The bad times had wiped out their life savings and their once verdant acreage of wheat and corn lay barren beneath the dust of the rainless sky. They'd defaulted on the mortgage and like their neighbors, they were hungry.

They packed up their old pick-up truck and bid a teary farewell to the house they'd built with a large dose of love and an equal amount of hope for a bright, happy future.

On the fifth day of their journey, their rickety truck broke down just outside a small town lined with makeshift shanties housing others as bad off as they. Andy Marx, the town drunk, who'd seen them coming up the dirt road on foot, alerted the town that two strangers were passing through probably looking for food and shelter. Most people retreated to their homes, fearful of being asked to share what little food they had.

"There ain't a bite to eat in the whole town—better move on," Andy told them.

But Joe refused to be discouraged. He approached the first house, asking the woman who appeared, "Could you spare a teensy bit of food? We've traveled a long way and we're very hungry."

"I'm sorry, but I have nothing to give you," the woman gruffly barked.

Joe went from house to house and each time he was turned away. Most people were polite. "I'm sorry said one woman named Mrs. Wise, whose three children clung to the hem of her worn dress. "I have barely enough to feed my own children. But you're welcome to sleep in the horse barn out back."

"I am tired and hungry," Mary said to Joe. "But mostly tired. Let's rest and maybe tomorrow we'll find food."

Joe gently settled his wife on a bed of straw in the barn and then walked back to the house. "Will you lend us a large soup pot and give us some water?" he asked Mrs. Wise. "I will make some stone soup to feed my wife. You and your children are welcome to share."

The woman curiously handed Joe a large pot filled with water and then called several neighbors. "He says he's making stone soup," she told them. "Have you ever heard of such a silly idea?"

Her curiosity piqued, she trudged out back to watch as Joe built a fire under the pot. After the water reached a roiling boil, he pulled from his backpack a small, smooth, quite ordinary looking stone. He plunked it into the pot of boiling water and stirred the pot.

The woman's neighbors, who had heard the news about the curious stranger cooking up stone soup, appeared in the Wise backyard one by one. They too watched as Joe carefully stirred the bubbling pot. He sniffed the broth appreciatively and took a sip, "Um, good," he said. "But it sure could use some salt."

"I may have some salt I can share with you," said Nellie Sage. She ran home and soon returned with salt, pepper and a few sprigs of parsley, which she added to the pot.

"Thank you for your generosity," said Joe. He again tasted the soup. "This is heavenly," he announced, smacking his lips. "Now if I only had a carrot, this soup would be fit for a king."

Mrs. Wise told Joe she thought she could spare a couple of carrots.

By the time she returned with the carrots, her backyard was brimming with townsfolk laughing among themselves about the stranger and his stone soup. Children ran on the outskirts of the crowd playing kick the can.

Joe licked his lips in anticipation. "Boy oh boy," he said to himself rather loudly, "This soup is certainly going to be tasty. Of course, stone soup with cabbage—that can't be beat." Andy Marx, feeling a bit guilty about telling his neighbors to hide in their homes and protect their food, quietly retreated and returned with a few cabbage leafs.

"What does this stone soup taste like?" asked one man. "It's almost magical," Joe said. Of course, it would be better with a few onions," he admitted.

"I may have a couple of onions," said the man. A young woman with a baby in her arms piped up, "I believe I could bring a few potatoes." Someone else offered, "We have a few leeks we could spare. I'll go get them."

The others, not wanting to be "outdone" by their neighbors, ran to their homes to find a scrap of food—a bit of salt pork, a handful of peas—to add to the pot of magical soup.

And so it went. Until finally what had started as a pot of water and a stone, was transformed into a savory cup of soup for all.

Mary awoke from her slumber to find a crowd of friendly faces surrounding the barn and her husband hovering over a pot of aromatic soup.

"How in the world did you get the ingredients to make such a grand soup?" she asked Joe.

The townspeople swelled with pride as Joe replied, "Darling, it was the kindness of strangers."

The stone soup party continued into the night with the adults talking and singing while the children, their bellies full of nourishing soup, played.

During the evening, Mrs. Wise said to Nellie Sage, "You think there's something magic about this soup? We haven't eaten this well nor had this much fun in a long while. We must remember the recipe!"


Stone Soup

1 stone
2 cups of kindness
1 cup of charity
3 tablespoons benevolence
A pinch of altruism
1 teaspoon of compassion
Dash of generosity
Assorted contributions


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Lynn Kerrigan is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Eastern Pennsylvania with her two children and one grandchild. She may be reached at [email-address-removed].

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This page created December 2000


Copyright © 1998-2001, Lynn Kerrigan. No portion of this article may be reproduced for publication without express, written permission of the author.


This page created between 1996 and 2001, and modified February 2007