Required Reading: Soup and Bread Cookbook

soup and bread
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Here’s something I don’t often admit: the winters do sort of suck in Chicago. I’ll take a chilly day over an unbearably hot one anytime, but by April, I’m generally ready to feel some reasonable temps again. But, even though I’m not as sensitive to the cold as about 84% of the rest of the city, I can understand why folks gripe and whine about it. I can see how turning up the heat a bit and finding something on Hulu is often more attractive than heading out into the tundra that is Chicago in the winter. Try as I might to fight the isolation that many fall victim to at this time, it’s hard to convince some people it’s worth it to get out of the apartment and do something fun.

That’s where Martha Bayne comes in. She realized the same thing as a bartender at the most challenging bar to get to in this city, the waste management facility surrounded Hideout. On a slow night in 2009, brilliance struck as she thought to herself: why don’t I start serving soup? The first event of what will be running into its fourth year (simply known as Soup & Bread) was a surprising hit. In the introduction to the cookbook that compiles the recipes from past meetings, Bayne is proud to share how it did more than just bring some people out to another bar — it built a community. People from all fields of life (gardeners, teachers, musicians, chefs, mothers) were able to meet each other, share recipes, share ideas, or simply share a meal.

The book itself expands on that idea. Paul Kahan, a Michelin-starred chef, shares a recipe in the same binding as Khawla Shuhayib, a housekeeper at the Palmer House, who offers a traditional Iraqi soup recipe. It’s impossible to think how Bayne may have ever come in contact with some of these people had it not been for the event she started as well as her interest in the link between food and social justice. Historically, soup has been considered a simple, economic dish and is often shared as a means of charity. But Bayne is more interested in making a connection with people, taking a note more from the Hull House and community centers than a conventional soup kitchen.

Bayne started the Soup & Bread events in Chicago, but has participated in chapters in Seattle and New York as well. Nearly every one of the recipes in the book have been made for one of these events, and she shares a brief memory about each one. Likewise, she recognizes this is not an entirely unique event, and expands on past similar ideas that have taken place in Detroit, Boston and San Francisco.

The basis of it all is soup and its versatility. It can be simple or complex, and allows the cook a lot of creative freedom. Or, they can stick to a specific recipe and extend a part of generations-long tradition.

The book itself comes with simple and classic illustrations. The eight chapters each revolve around a theme (“Soup from Home,” “Soup for Art,” etc.) focus moreso on the soup than bread, but there are more than a handful to choose from for all of the bakers out there. An added bonus: there are some recipes to make stock as well (including Bayne’s only contribution in the book) and yes, the book will help you win your next chili cook-off. Admittedly, I haven’t yet attempted any of these myself (although I’m sure pizza soup will be experimented with sooner or later), but the months ahead look like I’ll have plenty of time to force…I mean…offer friends old and new to taste my new creations.

The first Soup & Bread of the 2012 season took place at the Hideout (1354 W. Wabansia) on Wednesday January 4th. While events are free, they do take donations to give to local food pantries. A portion of the proceeds from book sales do as well. The book can be purchased online at the official S&B website, or at any of the following locations. To be safe, call ahead to assure it’s in stock (pun fully intended):

Renegade Handmade
Green Grocer Chicago
Book Cellar
Women and Children First
Haymaker Shop

Andrew Hertzberg

About Andrew Hertzberg

If identity is an illusion, I’m a magician in training. And although Emerson was right in pointing out that “with consistency, a great soul has simply nothing to do” the one constant I don’t mind in my life is Chicago. Yes, even the boredom of her suburbs couldn’t suppress the glow of the city, my attraction as a moth to flame. The future is unwritten, the characters are ever-expanding, and the plot is a perpetual foray through rising actions, conflicts and falling actions; the setting, however, remains the same.

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