Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Base of Reality

                                                                  Photo Flickr-esterase

Why make a soup? Why, when there are recipes available for so many other things? Recipes for delights from The French Laundry that hover in minds near godliness (I've heard the chef referred to as a God which was startling as I thought that a chef was a trade or profession myself), recipes from dozens of ethnic foodways (oh let's say "cuisines", it sounds cooler) that dazzle and impress those unused to seeing or eating them every day, recipes complex and gorgeous everywhere that can produce shiny food-porn capable of excellent photo-shots on the kitchen table?

The reason to make a soup is that it is one of the most basic and real foods known to man and womankind.
The reason is that it is a humble thing - something that in times past kept people alive when there may have been not much else to eat. 

Another reason is that people (most people, anyway - and I would go so far as to say "anyone who is not really mentally twisted in some terrible manner") love good soup. 

Day One: First you must get your ham.

This is a fast thing for us today, most of us. In past times it was different. 

In past times first you'd have to get a pig. If you didn't have money you'd have to find a husband with a pig or a wife who would bring a dowry of a pig then marry them. That pig would have to find themselves a pig of the opposite sex to make babies with (there is some pleasure in all this work) then have the babies, suckle  and wean them. Then the little piggies would have to be raised with pasture or feed, pigslop and fresh water (which means a stream nearby or a trough filled constantly), and maybe even a nose ring installed to keep them from digging ("rooting" is the right word and I often wonder what old-timers think when they see young people with nose rings installed in their young faces) themselves out of the fence somehow built in the heavy soil to contain them.

Once big and fat the pig would need be slaughtered (not a pretty thought) with sharp implements by someone (whoever could do it?) or if it were closer to today's time, a truck would be needed to load the pig on to transport it to a slaughterhouse where the sharp knives and the person who could do it were available. Then the enormous animal could be cut up with the knowledge and skills of pig anatomy into the porky bits most of us know and love.

After that the ham could be salted, seasoned, smoked over the right sort of wood in the right sort of humidity and temperature, then cured.

Why even think about all this!

Why? Because somehow it makes the soup taste better if you know this, not only to you but to whomever tastes it - even if you just go to the grocery store to buy a ham, flashing the debit card easily through the slot for payment. I assure you it does, but there is no real proof of it. Just try it and see.

Today get your ham. Go to the grocery store or wherever you get ham from and choose it. It should be from the shank end and not too fatty. This is not a ham to serve, spiral-sliced and glazed. This is a ham that has the power to make a soup. It will not be gorgeous but it will be strong and good.

Surprisingly it will also be inexpensive.

If you do not have onions, carrots, celery in the house pick up those too. And a bay leaf and dry thyme.

The work of Day One is done. The base of reality has been found.

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