When the Chicago-based Soup & Bread group brought their casual benefit and soup-sipping party to Madison last November as part of their book launch tour for the Soup & Bread Cookbook (Surrey, $14), it brought in $1,060 in donations for Second Harvest Foodbank -- a Soup and Bread record, according to Bayne.
Basically, home cooks and restaurant chefs alike bring a couple of gallons of soup to a hip hangout (in Chicago, it's the Hideout bar), crockpots keep the soup hot, people come and donate what they can to the cause and enjoy various soups, to the tune of a DJ. The cookbook itself contains recipes from those who've brought soup to the table over the years.
While at the inaugural Madison event on November 30, I was asked by one of my tablemates if the cookbook was any good. Having had it in my hands for all of two days at that point, I could say that it looked good and was extremely well designed -- the tomato-soup-red book reminds me of some of those diminutive Campbell Soup cookbooks my mom had on hand when I was a kid -- you know, the kind that have soup recipes that consist of the sentence, "open a can of soup." You won't find that sentence here.
There are a lot of interesting soup recipes in Soup & Bread, but to me the most motivating element of the book is the chapter introductions, which outline the various ways that people can use soup to "build community one pot at a time," as the book's subtitle puts it. Soup as a way to raise money for a cause. Soup to fund art. Soup for peace. Soup as a way to meet your neighbors. Soup swaps. Soup cookoffs. Madison already has soup events in place -- MadisonSOUP is a soup-based, crowd-sourced fundraising effort, and Empty Bowls events have paired pottery soup bowls with soup to raise money for the hungry for several years. So we're no soup novices. But in the dead of winter, we can all use a little inspiration. By the way, National Soup Swap Day is coming right up on Saturday, January 21.
So supposing you decide to cook up a pot of soup, for you, or others, what's in store for you with this book? I made the deli style sweet and sour soup with shredded flank steak with some beef soup bones from the Northside Farmers' Market, which was a keeper. A black bean, hominy and sweet potato soup was a hit on the home front, although I thought it needed more oomph; granted, I cut down on the chipotle peppers as called for because I thought it would be too hot -- so I guess it's okay to trust the recipes. Also good: fennel soup with a swirl, the swirl being a mixing of herbs (parsley and basil, with capers, for instance). Salt cod and chorizo chowder is next up, and then chevre bisque (with Roma tomatoes). Bread recipes close out each chapter, although in real soup and bread events, bread is donated from bakeries.
Ultimately, it's as much about community as it is about the soup. "It's just great to have this day that's just about getting together to eat and have a good time," says Molly Fitzgibbon, quoted in the book about her family's jettisoning of Thanksgiving and Christmas fiascos in favor of "Soup Day." No pressure, no competing obligations. What a concept.
Watch for the announcement of a January date for the next Madison Soup & Bread, and maybe give it a try.