If you have not heard the folk tale about stone soup, it begins with a weary and hungry traveler. He finds a village and begins asking the residents for a bit of food. He is denied everywhere and decides that rather than move on to the next village he would change the town he is in, find some food and show the locals a new way to think about their own lack of hospitality, how much is “enough” and perhaps even find a way to make them a bit less stingy. He sent word through a group of children that hew saw playing near the town square, he sent them to tell everyone that he would create the best soup anyone had ever tasted, out of a rock!
The curious assembled first, then, the non-believers and when enough had assembled in the town square, the few shut-ins and loners came, just to see what all the commotion was about. A few of the snootier ones came down just to see what had cleared the streets, emptied the pub and brought the farmers in from their fields. The weary traveler had the gift of gab and a small stone, about the size of an egg. He told the assembled group that he had a recipe that would stun and amaze them. all he needed was a large cauldron and some water, and his magic rock. The nay-sayers were unimpressed, but the shopkeeper, perhaps wanting to give him enough rope with which to hang himself, brought out his biggest cauldron, set a fire under it, and sent the children to get buckets so that the vessel could be filled from the well, just a few feet away.
Everyone watched, jostling for position, and with great gestures of his arms, and an incantation of some sort, the traveler plopped the stone into the water. He waited a minute or two, stirring slowly, murmuring almost to himself. “You know, he said, a small handful of salt really brings out the flavor…”
Within a few moments, a young boy had run home and brought back with him a small bowl of salt. “I made a really great version of this soup once that had a few potatoes in it,” the man said, and before you could say, Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean, the first stingy lady he had met when he got to town had returned to the square with an apron full of small potatoes. On the man went, stirring the great pot, weaving stories with his incantations. “Oh, yes,” he said, “a few rutabagas would add some sweet and savory flavors to the soup, if i only had a few…” almost as soon as he said this, a young boy darted out to his family’s garden and pulled a few of the yellowish globes from the dirt. On the man went, stirring placidly, occasionally wafting a handful of the steaming fluid toward his nose and breathing the smell in melodramatically, with closed eyes and a big smile on his face.
On and on he went, touting the wonderful flavors that some kale, onion, garlic and beans might add (if he only had a few…) one by one, his ingredient wish list was met with scurrying feet and proud smiles. Everyone, it seemed had something to add, but just a bit and as more and more of the town’s people got involved, it became a competition of sorts, each one hoping that their ingredient would make the now thickening soup better than ever. Before long, the man said, “If I only had a few scraps of meat to add, that really brings out the flavor of the rock.”
To this, the butcher, one of the wealthiest men in town, sent his son for not only a few scraps of beef, but a leg of lamb as well. all this was given freely and without hesitation because everyone wanted to be part of the miraculous Stone Soup event. We often need a bit of reminding, but we all have something essential to give, even if it is just an empty pot. Helfenstein Soup Council, here in Green Bay was founded on this idea and still thrives today, helping others, giving what they can, and offering to help with the little they have. Their Transition Town programs and talks on the topic of sustainability have led many to live better for less, feel more a part of community and share what little they have for the good of everyone.