January is National Soup Month, and what better time than the middle of winter to relax with a nice bowl of hot soup?
Soups have been around for as long as there have been waterproof containers to cook them in. We have evidence of soups going back as far as 20,000 BCE when they were probably boiled by dropping hot rocks into cooking vessels.
Today, soups and stews—the only real difference is that stews have less liquid in them—are popular around the world, and national and regional favorites have made their way to America. We have our own classics, of course, such as chicken noodle, tomato, and New England corn or clam chowders. But we’ve also adopted soups from Russia (borscht), Spain (gazpacho), Greece (avgolemono), India (mulligatawny), Japan (ramen), Hungary (goulash), and Mexico (pozole). Most recently, we’ve discovered Vietnam’s pho.
In sixteenth-century France, street vendors sold inexpensive soups as pick-me-ups. Such soup was called a “restorative”—in French, a “restaurant”—and when a shop specializing in such soups opened in 1765, “restaurant” took on a new meaning as a term for all commercial dining establishments.
There were soup recipes in the first cookbook published in the American colonies, in 1742. And soup was popular enough that people were already devising ways to preserve it. In the 18th and 19th centuries, broth was boiled down to a thick paste which was then dried in the open air. The result was a block of dehydrated broth, something like a gummier version of today’s bouillon cubes, called “portable soup.”
In 1882, Emma Ewing’s Soups and Soup Making was published. It was more of a pamphlet than a cookbook, but it was the first American publication devoted entirely to soup recipes.
At about the same time, the invention of canning made it possible to mass-produce soups for commercial sale. The Campbell Soup Company made canned soup easier to carry in 1897 when they invented condensed soup, which reduced the weight by removing some of the water.
Making your own soup can be as simple or as complicated as you want. At the most basic level, all you need to do is put some stock into a pot, add some chopped meat or vegetables, and heat it long enough to fully cook all of the ingredients. Lynn Alley and Melinda Cooper both offer collections of simple recipes for the slow cooker; and Shelley Clouse’s The Zen of Soups teaches you to approach soups in a more improvisatory manner, working with whatever ingredients you have on hand.
At the more ambitious extreme, you can start completely from scratch, making your own stocks and broths. Aliza Green’s The Soupmaker’s Kitchen and Jennifer McGruther’s Broth and Stock teach you how to start at the very beginning of the process.
And in between, there are dozens of cookbooks devoted to soup: Sunday Soup, Simply Soup, I Love Soup, Soup of the Day—two different books with that title, from Kate McMillan and Ellen Brown—All-Time Best Soups, The Big Book of Soups and Stews, and The Ultimate Soup Cookbook, which offers more than 900 recipes. Beatrice Ojakangas and Ivy Manning each offer soup-and-bread recipe pairings, and Nancie McDermott focuses on Southern soups.
Several books focus on soup as an opportunity for communal sharing. Soup Swap, Soup Night, and The Soup Club Cookbook offer different approaches to making large batches of soup to be swapped or shared with neighbors.
As people become more conscious of healthy eating, soups are right at home. Anna Thomas, Paulette Mitchell, and Deborah Madison focus on vegetarian and vegetable soups, and Judith Barrett offers low-fat soup recipes.
Some cookbooks narrow the focus to specific types of soup, or national cuisines. Nell Benton’s Ramen Fusion Cookbook, Andrea Nguyen’s Pho Cookbook, and Nongkran Daks & Alexandra Greeley’s Thai Soups and Salads center of different types of Asian soups. Marco Canora concentrates on Brodo, or bone broth. And two types of American soups and stews get books of their own in Brooke Dojny’s Chowderland and Robb Walsh’s Chili Cookbook.
The links in this post are to the e-book editions of these cookbooks, but we have an equally large and varied selections of soup cookbooks in print, if that’s your preferred format.
Also This Week
January 20, 1920
Federico Fellini was born. Fellini was an Italian screenwriter and director, one of the giants of 20th-century cinema. He directed about two dozen films in a 40-year career, developing a distinctive style that blended ornate visuals with emotional realism. Four of Fellini’s films received the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, including La Strada (streaming | DVD) and 8½ (streaming | DVD).
January 23, 1930
Derek Walcott was born. Walcott was a poet and playwright from Saint Lucia, and the recipient of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature. The Nobel committee praised Walcott’s work for having “a strong regional voice that transcends its topical locality.” Among his most highly praised work is the book-length epic poem Omeros (e-book | print), loosely inspired by Homer’s Iliad; Walcott’s shorter poetry is gathered in The Poetry of Derek Walcott (e-book).
January 25, 1970
Stephen Chbosky was born. Chbosky is a novelist, screenwriter, and director best known for his first novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (e-book | e-audio | print | audio); he also wrote and directed the film adaptation. Chbosky’s second book, a horror novel called Imaginary Friend (e-book | e-audio | print | audio), was published last year.
January 26, 1970
Kirk Franklin was born. For more than 20 years, Franklin has been one of the most popular figures in American gospel music, occasionally crossing over with hits on the secular R&B charts with singles like “Stomp” and “Looking for You.” Franklin has won 21 Dove Awards, the annual awards given by the Gospel Music Assocation, and 13 Grammy Awards. More of Franklin’s music is available for streaming or download at Freegal.