The Serenity of Stocks and Soups


By Chef Stephanie Michalak, Turner Farm Culinary Manager

Many of us probably have memories of some sort of soup or stew in our lives. I spent most of my early childhood at my grandmother’s house, and while she made pierogis from scratch, pretty much everything else came out of a can. Her pantry was always stocked with an assortment of soups that got us through the gaps in lunches otherwise filled with cold cut sandwiches and cola. I never really looked forward to them, but they were there and I was probably hungry enough in the moment to not care too much. However, my mother used to make a mean chicken and dumpling soup that engulfed the entire house in wafting, alluring aromas. I can still faintly smell the buttery biscuit scents and hints of parsley and thyme when thinking about it.

My mother didn’t make this dish often (or just when we were sick), but it was something that I looked forward to and could relish in its “hominess.” There’s a word in the German language that conveys this sense much better—gemütlichkeit—it’s this internal warmth and contentedness that our English language doesn’t necessarily convey in the same way. This ethereal quality of comfort is what I think of whenever I make or eat a great soup. There’s an internal switch that goes off for me that cues a sense of ease and serenity.

However, many soups seem to lack the depth needed to trigger this. Canned soups do not inherently contain that “made-with-love” ingredient, and flavor development cannot totally be solved with a chicken or beef-flavored packet found floating inside a single serving package of instant ramen.

Stocks take time even though they do not take exact ingredients or measurements. Soups can be simple yet complex. It’s just not as instantaneous as we’ve come to anticipate in our modern dining culture. Sure, there are ways to make soup effortlessly and ready at will, but it does take planning and some know-how. I love soups no matter if it’s 90 degrees, or freezing out, because they are so versatile and can be ever-changing with the seasons. (If you didn’t know: late summer is a spectacular time to make a batch, or ten, of corn soup. Summer isn’t just for gazpacho.)

Soups (and stocks) are an amazing way to highlight what’s in season and help mitigate food waste, but it does take a certain knack. If you agree, perhaps you’d care to join me for my upcoming cooking class Stocks and Soups class. I hope to see you there.

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