A Reflection on Stone Soup

Article by Irene Reskin

What comes to your mind when you think of recipes? Are there special memories that come back to you of beloved friends, favorite family members, or happy stories from your past?

On November 16th a baker’s dozen of people gathered at Fresh Thyme Soup Company in Beaverton to share a bowl of hot soup and talk about recipes, history, and community building. At this event, called “Stone Soup: How Recipes Can Preserve History and Nourish Community,” participants brought treasured recipes and talked about how cooking together and eating together fosters positive associations, strengthens relationships, and sometimes even breaks down cultural barriers.

Discussion leader Jennifer Roberts showed examples of recipes from the 19th century. Participants noticed how recipes have changed from long, block-style, narrative paragraphs to the streamlined formats we usually see today. Jennifer explained that in the past, recipes were not only for preparing food, but also for medical purposes such as curing bed-wetting and mad dog bites.

Jennifer said the word “recipe” is based on a Latin word encompassing both receiving and giving. The participants found that origin especially relevant because recipes allow us to both give and receive—not only food but love, family, and history.

The group read an old folk story called “Stone Soup,” in which a group of hungry strangers convinced the people of a village to each share a small amount of their food. The individual villagers became a community through their contribution to that simple meal. The participants liked hearing about the trust and acceptance that grew from an act of sharing. (To read the Stone Soup story, click this link.)

Jennifer also urged the participants to share their own special recipes. She said the recipes may end up in a story-based collection compiled by the Oregon Humanities Conversation Project.

The Stone Soup event was sponsored by Oregon Humanities and the Washington County Museum, in partnership with Fresh Thyme Soup Company. Jennifer Roberts, a writer and independent scholar living in Josephine County, Oregon, is currently working on a novel set in the seventeenth century that involves witchcraft, alchemy, and, of course, recipes.

For those of you who would like a tried-and-true dessert for this Thanksgiving season, here’s one from Irene Reskin, a staff member at Washington County Museum. The easy recipe that follows is a cross between a cake and a pie, full of walnuts, cinnamon, and tart apples. Irene says she’s been making it for 40 years and that the recipe came from a family member who made it for 40 years before.

Swedish Apple Pie

  1. Combine the following:

2 eggs, beaten
½ cup sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 teaspoons baking powder
3 large Granny Smith apples, cut into bite-sized pieces
¾ cup chopped walnuts

  1. Spread batter in a pie plate (the batter will be thick). Sprinkle with coarse white sugar.
  2. Bake 40 minutes at 350°. Serve warm or room temperature, plain or with whipped cream.