When I was little, Mouse Soup was one of my favorite books. I read it over and over. Each story the mouse tells the weasel is funny and enjoyable, but my favorite line is in the beginning of the book. The weasel captures the mouse and takes him home to make mouse soup. The mouse tells the weasel "Wait! This soup will not taste good. It has no stories in it. Mouse soup must be mixed with stories to make it taste really good." I was thinking about the mouse and the weasel and mouse soup while I was making a pot of stew for dinner on Sunday. When I planned our meals for the week, I knew that Sunday was going to be a rainy miserable day. I couldn't think of anything more comforting than wrapping my hands around a warm bowl of hearty stew with maybe some cornbread on the side. It is something that I have done many times on days such as these my whole life.
I remember winter evenings with bowls of hot stew and plates of cornbread. The fire would be going in the fireplace and I'd have my Strawberry Shortcake blanket spread out in front of the hearth. That's where I'd be, picnic style, watching something on TV and pretending to drink my glass of milk which I would set next to me so that Bitsy (our little terrier) could drink it for me. I will always link the meals my mother made us with the seasons like Taco Salad is summer and camping. Stew is winter, warmth and home. I don't know the origins of Mom's stew recipe. I assumed it was something she picked up from her mother. It's not a fancy soup. Meat, potatoes, carrots, bag of frozen veggies, bag of frozen okra because they never include that with mixed veggies, large can of diced tomatoes, Italian spices and some water. Mom would put all of this in a crockpot and cook it all day. I would walk through the door at the end of a yucky school day and smell the wonderful smell of soup as I pulled off layers of coat/scarf/hat. I was usually the first one home. I was probably what you'd call a latchkey kid but without the key because we never locked the door then. If it was locked, the garage door was always unlocked. Any way. It was a comfort coming home to a warm house that smelled of home cooked stew even if it was an empty house. Because the house wouldn't be empty for long. Dad would be home not too long after and then Mom and the three of us would fill our bowls and settle in the den. Sometimes Janel was there, mostly she'd be off doing teenage girl stuff though.
These are the things I was thinking as I lugged my enamel cast iron stew pot out of the cabinet. I thought about the stories that would go in this pot to make it taste good. Something more than onions and garlic and potatoes and carrots. What's my stew pot story? I do not have a fireplace. The Strawberry Shortcake blanket is long gone. I do not need to pretend to drink milk and in fact rarely remember to buy any for Michael and the Cabbage. There is still the comfort of holding a warm bowl of stew in the palms of my hand, maybe even more so now that those bowls were made by Mom. I will admit to sneaking crumbs of cornbread to Josephine. The stew still fills the house with that oh so familiar smell of home cooked goodness. My stew pot story is not very complex. There is simplicity in the ingredients and in the eating and sharing of the meal itself. It is this simplicity in a complex life that makes this soup taste so good.
Maybe I'll throw in some crickets next time for good measure (or not). Happy Love Thursday.