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     The Origins and History of Soup
       excerpted from An Exaltation of Soups: The Soul-Satisfying Story of Soup, As Told in More Than 100 Recipes
       Copyright © 2004 by Patricia Solley

    The Origins and History of Soup

    Stone Age people created soup before they had a pot to cook it in, a
    bowl to serve it in, or a gourd to drink it from.

    In fact, it’s not completely clear who first stumbled onto the concept
    of soup–anthropologists disagree, depending on their read of existing
    artifacts. Some say it was one of the Homo sapiens gang, sometime after
    80,000 b.c.e.–either the Neanderthals or the Cro-Magnons who ultimately
    did those poor Neanderthals in. Others argue for a later
    generation–Neolithic man, around 10,000 b.c.e.

    I kind of like the Neanderthal theory. It was aparticularly tough and
    dangerous world back then. These hunter-gatherers were stuck in the
    last blast of an Ice Age that killed off much of their food and many
    species. It was every man for himself as the Neanderthals ran fearfully
    from–and ran hungrily after–woolly mammoths, saber-toothed tigers,
    wolves, and other hominids. And yet elderly Neanderthal skeletons have
    been found in France with teeth worn down below gum level–and deeply
    crippled skeletons have been found, too. This means that some older or
    sickly prehistoric men had been kept alive only through the compassion
    of their communities and the brilliance of someone who could create hot
    and soupy food alternatives to incredibly cold indigestible plants and
    tough meat.

    I try to put myself under the toque of that Stone Age Julia Child. I
    imagine him or her using bark to dip and carry water . . .

    putting food in the water and noticing it soften or swell . . . marking
    how plants and berries, meat and marrow chunks would infuse the water
    with color and flavor. I imagine him or her getting the idea of warming
    the broth from the warm mother’s milk that kept little Neanderthal
    babies happy.

    Soup! It’s an unbelievable achievement–a matter of thought overreaching
    what was technologically possible at the time. In the words of
    anthropologist Sally McBrearty: “The earliest Homo sapiens probably had
    the cognitive capability to invent Sputnik . . . but didn’t yet have
    the history of invention or a need for those things.” But soup? Yes, he
    needed soup. He needed soup, so he imagined soup. He imagined soup, so
    he brought it into being, despite his lack of pots to cook it in.

    In fact, soup turned out to be a transforming concept that changed
    early man’s relationship to nature, increased his life choices, and
    created completely new needs and desires. One eon he’s a vegetarian in
    the garden of Eden, the next he’s scavenging or hunting raw flesh and
    sucking bone marrow . . . then, almost suddenly, he’s figured out an
    unbelievably complex process with tools to produce a hot meal. It’s a
    gastronomic miracle, and it’s art: multiple colors, multiple textures,
    multiple flavors–something created by man that had never existed before
    in the history of the world.

    But how on earth could early man in 10,000 b.c.e., at the latest, have
    boiled things . . . without the pottery that he finally created in 6,000
    b.c.e. and the cauldrons that followed in 3,600 b.c.e.?

    How Can You Make Soup Without Pots?

    I propose two theories.

    First, prehistoric man might have boiled animals in their skins. He
    could have flayed his prey, suspending the skin on forked sticks, filling
    the bag with water and food, and lighting a fire underneath. The skin
    would not catch fire because it would be cooked by the boiling water on
    the inside (but don’t try this trick at home). In fact, this technique
    has been used by many cultures in recorded history, from Scythians in
    fifth century b.c.e. to Irish and Scots in the sixteenth century.

    Second, our ancestors might have used the “hot stone” method. First you
    dig a hole or find one, and fill it with water. Then you build a fire
    close by and heat stones in it. Then, one by one, and

    v-e-r-y carefully, you transfer the stones to the water until it boils.
    And it will. Stones can be heated to a temperature of 1,300 degrees
    Fahrenheit in a well-laid hearth. How do I know that? Because in 1954,
    archeologist Michael J. O’Kelly proved it in experiments with his
    students at primeval Irish sites: “They used the hearths to heat
    stones, used a dampened wooden shovel to dump them in the water,
    brought the water to a boil, and simmered a 10-pound leg of mutton for
    3 hours 40 minutes by adding stones every few minutes. . . . Then they
    ate the results: ‘excellently cooked and most tasty.’ ”*

    What Went into the Earliest Soups?

    After those first catch-as-catch-can soups of wild plants and animals,
    and after vast fields of grain sprang up in Europe and Asia, it turned
    out to be grains and beans–early man’s first agricultural triumphs in
    Neolithic times–that went into soup. By 7000 b.c.e., Emmer wheat had
    been domesticated in Turkey, and barley, millet, and beans in Greece.
    By 5000 b.c.e., rice was being cultivated in China. These were the
    stuff of early soups. And, of course, these remain our most revered
    modern comfort foods. Read on.

    Grains cooked in broth continue to be lovingly prepared in most
    cultures: porridges and gruels from ground wheat; couscous soups and
    farina soups; barley soups and tsampas; oatmeal soups and rice congee.
    Imagine the astonished look on ancient man’s face when he first
    witnessed the miracle of chemistry–when heating caused these cereal
    grains to release starch granules into the broth and make it thick.

    Bean/pea soup was in vogue long before Esau sold his birthright for it
    (that biblical “mess of pottage” was lentil soup), and it is an
    established part of every cuisine in the world without exception–every
    one! From feijoada in Brazil, to huku ne dovi in Zimbabwe, to misoshiru
    in Japan, and everything in between.

    And then there’s the ancient variation of ground wheat made into a
    bread that turns so hard without today’s modern preservatives that it
    can be made edible again only by pouring boiling broth over it. I know
    this bread from years I spent living in Morocco: that marvelous freshly
    baked kisra–a thick Frisbee of chewy bread–would turn to stone in 24
    hours. This is called “sop,” when dunked in hot liquid, the origin of
    our words soup, soupe, sup, sopa, soppe, zuppe, shorba, çorbasi. This
    combination is the basis of Portuguese sopa secos and asordas; Arabic
    shorbas; Spanish garlic soup; French panades, onion soup, and garbure;
    Italian aquacotta; Danish ollebrod, Estonian leivasupp, and French
    l’aïgo boulido. You’ll find an Egyptian fatta soup on page 248 whose
    very name means to break crisped pita bread into food.

    So there you have it. This part of our everyday cuisine, this soup that
    we take so much for granted, began life as a miracle of intellection,
    kept humankind alive through extremes of privation over the ages, and
    now serves to bind our common humanity, nurse our ills, and mark life’s

    When I ponder soup, I think of ancient Tollund Man, dug out of a Danish
    peat bog in the 1950s and perfectly preserved. He’d been ritually
    sacrificed to the gods–strangled–but first given a fine last meal, still
    intact in his stomach. What was it? You know what it was: it was soup.
    A thick soup of grain and weed seeds ground in a hand mill and boiled.

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    Best Soup Cookbook
    Best Soup Cookbook Features over 125 specially selected soups-ranging from hearty chowders to delicate consommes-These are easy to make and most can be prepared with ingredients found in your local market.

    Simply Elegant Soup
    Simply Elegant Soup Who would have thought that critically acclaimed chef George Morrone’s debut cookbook would focus on soup--a tasty but often overlooked course. Rest assured that nothing is humble in the hands of this skilled and controversial chef who helped San Francisco’s Aqua and Fifth Floor restaurants earn four stars. In Simply Soup, Morrone focuses his talents on everybody’s favorite comfort food, presenting 25 recipes for soups that are anything but ordinary. Spoonable dishes such as Carrot and Ginger Soup with Lime Crème Fraîche, Sweet Corn and Jalapeño Soup en Croûte, Sea of Cortez Scallop Bisque, and Classic Vichyssoise with Potato Latkes and Caviar are beautifully illustrated with full-color photography, proving that soup can be gourmet and comfort can be sophisticated.

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