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A bowl full of comfort

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Posted: Friday, January 19, 2007 10:00 pm

Winter is the time for those warm comforting soups and stews and our recent cold weather has me thinking hearty, simple and hot, one pot meals. Nothing says welcome home better than a soothing bowl of soup or a spicy cup of chili after a long day.

I look back now and laugh when I realize there was a time in my life when I did not like soup. My husband, who loves soup, could not understand how anyone could have such an aversion. For years he had to persuade me into tasting or preparing soups and stews. I finally came to understand that my dislike was due to my limited soup exposure growing up. Oyster stew eaten with ketchup, vegetable soup with stewed tomatoes, chili con carne or Campbell's tomato soup, always eaten with grilled cheese sandwiches, covered most of my soup experience.

My fractional exposure was only a very small glimpse into the world of potages. Time and tasting have really opened my eyes to the world of soups, stews, bisques and chowders. These are now some of my favorite foods and I am always looking to try a new recipe or replicate something I have eaten in a restaurant. Three pots of soup at a recent book club confirmed its popularity with my friends and now I'm on a quest to acquire the recipe for Warren's butter bean stew cooked with beer and ham hocks.

When I was thinking about these one pot wonders for this article, I was concerned the reader might find defining soup as too elemental and that pointing out the differences in bisques, chowders, stews and burgoo could not possibly fill a column. Then I noticed at least 30 entries under soup in the "Food Lover's Companion" by Sharon Tyler Herbst and became cognizant of the many forms and the full versatility of this dish. I then realized I could not begin to define the world of soup in one column but could highlight some of its merits.

Soup, unlike other foods, can span the entire menu. We eat and serve soup in demitasse cups or in shot glasses as appetizers, cups of soup are served as a first course, or combined with a salad or sandwich as a main dish. Heartier soups stand alone as their own main course and fruit soups are wonderful desserts during the hot summer nights when fruit is at its peak.

We eat soup year round, hot and cold, smooth or chucky, crystal clear as in consommé or it can contain all of the leftovers in the refrigerator and miraculously becomes a mulligan stew that can't be replicated. Most cultures and regions have a soup or stew associated with it. New England clam chowder, Italian minestrone or cioppino, borscht, Brunswick Stew, menudo, posole, won ton, and gumbo to name a few.

The prevalence of soup in our society can also be seen in the many references to it in popular culture. Andy Warhol created art from soup cans and helped to elevate Campbell's Soup into the iconic food category. Seinfeld, the comedy television show endeared the "Soup Nazi" to us and spawned a new genre of eatery, focusing solely on soups. While the series of books, "Chicken Soup for the Soul" continues to remind us of the comfort and healing powers of soup. I think it's apparent I'm not alone in my enjoyment of soup and a visit at lunch time to Lodi's own Soup Ladle is defining proof.

Lodi resident Nancy Rostomily is a southern girl at heart, who enjoys the art and science of food. She can be reached at lodifood@hotmail.com.

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