The story itself reads like a fable or a twisted children's book that ends up with the entire town dining on soup. In reality, it ended up in our basement freezer where just our family had the pleasure of dining on it for months to come.
My mother and I were away at Girl Scout camp, and my father, left to tend to his own needs, decided to make us a pot of Hamburg' Soup (we always left off the "er") to celebrate our week away in the woods fighting mosquitoes, mice and raccoons. Like any great chef or soup connoisseur, no recipe was needed. He just started digging in the fridge and the pantry and throwing things in the pot.
A handful of this, a pinch of that. And then he'd taste it and think, "Boy, this could use some (whatever)." And in that would go, followed by a repeat of the last few steps until he had added so many things that it no longer fit in one pot.
So he got out another.
By the time we got home, there were four large, to-the-brim pots of soup simmering on the stove. I couldn't have been more than 10, but I still remember the look of horror on my mother's face when she first laid eyes on the full stove and the fuller sink.
Truthfully, it was delicious soup. To this day, my family still says it was and he has yet to recreate it, which my mom is probably thankful for, but that's OK.
That's the great thing about soup, though. It's a big, steaming pot of all sorts of good things that might be decent on their own, but come together to make one massive, marvelous delight. A good soup has layers of flavor, but none that stand out and jump on your tongue and tell the other flavors to go away. They just all blend together and create joy.
This was the story I told my kids on a recent dreary February day. Feeling cabin fever setting in, I thought in my mothering genius that I could give the kids all cutting boards and knives and let them have free range of the kitchen to make a pot of Hamburg' Soup, in the style of my dad, sans recipe.
"You don't need a recipe for Hamburg' Soup," I told them. "You make it with your heart."
While there was a bit of a learning curve with how to dice onions and not massacre them, by the end of the afternoon we had all contributed something to this huge pot -- but only one -- of soup. I have to say that it turned out pretty fantastic. We ate it for three days and I sneaked the last of the leftovers while they all were away at school.
And our hearts all got a little happier.