Several hundred years ago, in a war weary and torn rural England, there was a great famine. The war and the weather had conspired to fail the crop entirely and hunger was rampant across the land. So scarce was food that violence was a daily occurrence with the strong taking what they needed from the weak, and the weak imploring God to deliver them from this evil season.
Families hid what food they did have, even from their closest friends and neighbors. Children were warned to say nothing of an onion if there was one on hand for fear someone in need would beg share it. And a bitter, cold wind blew without cease.
A road weary and battle worn knight was trudging horseless across the land toward his home, many days travel by foot away. And as the day grew late, he was relieved to see the smoke from a small village ahead on the rural pathway he trod.
He stopped at the village well to drink and ask food and shelter for the night. He found there an ancient crone who eyed him with suspicion from head to foot. “There’s no need to stop here, Squire” she grumbled. “We’ve been had to the quick and the village is starving. We’ve no food for ourselves, less for strangers.”
The knight knelt drinking deeply from the bucket. “Then thank you mother for this drink from the well. It’s a relief and blessing enough. Tell me true, you’ve really no food in the village?”
“We starve.” snarled the crone. “And if able to grub a single root from the very frozen ground, one of you soldiers offers to trade our own lives in exchange for it. We live under a curse I tell you.”
“Dire!” said the weary soldier. “How you suffer. I can scarcely imagine. It sounds a tribulation beyond belief.”
“Believe it or don’t believe it. We’ve nothing to eat here. So best you move along.”
“That would be a cold and heartless act. With you all starving in front of me, to just move on without doing what I might. I’ll not. I’m a bit short myself, but what I do have I will to share.”
“Share, sire.” The womans chill warmed but slightly. “You have food to share with us?”
“I’ll do what I can, “ replied the weary night. “You’re right enough, it’s a hard season. Fetch me a pot old woman. As large as you can find. I’ll make you soup, meager it is. But nourishing. And you and I shall dine as best we can.”
“I have a pot. It’s fairly large. What soup will you make?”
“Enough of your whining. Fetch me the pot old woman. And hurry. We’re both going to catch our death of cold while standing here starving at each other. Where’s wood for the fire. I’ll get it on.”
“There’s wood aplenty if we could but eat wood. It’s over there by the stalls. I’ll fetch your pot.” Grumbling she shuffled off.
The knight sorted through the wood and found pieces enough not rotted to make a small fire. He knelt and carefully flinted it to life. The old woman returned with a fairly large pot of obvious heritage, but serviceable.
“Let’s fill it perhaps half.” He knelt to ladle the well water into the pot, and carefully positioned it over the fire just beginning to blaze.
“And what’s to go in it?” queried the old woman.
Just then, a thin lad of about fourteen joined them. “What’s doing here Auntie?”
“This stranger is set to make soup. Said he’ll share with us.” replied the old woman.
The knight carefully drew his bag to him and oh so gently withdrew a small bag made of purple velvet from the sack. Carefully, he opened the drawstring and extracted a small smooth stone somewhat lesser in size than a closed child’s fist. He very ceremoniously lowered it over the simmering water and dropped it in.
Carefully, he withdrew a second stone from the sack, and again carefully lowered it over the pot dropping it carefully to the bottom through the simmering water.
“Have you a stir?” the knight inquired.
The lad volunteered “We’ve a ladling spoon in our kitchen. Shall I fetch it?”
“Capitol idea my lad. A large spoon would be ideal. This soup requires a bit of a stir to extract the savor.”
The lad trotted off to his house to fetch the spoon.
“What’s this? Are you daft? You intend to have us eat of a soup made of two stones?”
Casting his eyes down, the soldier sighed. “ I said it was meager enough. But it’s filling and we learned to eat this poor soup at the battles. Hardly a king’s feast, but it will have to do for this day. And I’ll gladly share it with you.”
“Harrumph” growled the old woman. “Stone soup indeed. That IS mighty poor fare. I’m thinking you’ll have little off your hunger with that. And thin. With what flavor at that? And what to gnaw? You’re a poor cook Sire.”
“Perhaps. But I’ve done it enough and I’ll note it does for what it does.”
The lad returned with the spoon. “I’ve found it. A spoon to stir a pot for a king!”
“Aye and a handsome spoon it is lad.” The knight knelt and very carefully stirred the pot with a practiced circular motion.
The boy peered down into the now bubbling water at the two stones in the bottom of the pot. “What nature of stone is this that makes soup?”
“They are quite rare really. Mind you it’s not a mutton stew. But enough to live and quell the pangs. Given me by a ranking knight just before he was slain.”
“For heaven’s sake” cried the old crone. You canna make soup from two rocks I tell you.”
“I fear I have, and perhaps too many times dear mother. I didn’t claim you a royal feast.”
The knight again knelt and drew the now steaming liquid into the spoon and carefully raised it to his lips. “Not as bad as some. I’ve had better. But this will do.” he noted analytically.
“Give me that spoon you idiot. What flavor can a soup made of stones have.” The old woman slurped the hot liquid loudly. “Bah, it has no flavor at all. You know nothing of cooking. This thing hasn’t even the flavor of salt.”
Looking dejected the knight noted. “True enough old woman. It IS much better with salt. But I’ve none.”
“You’re a moron spluttered the old woman. Here, for Christ’s sake. I’ll fetch some salt. How do you think I’m to eat such a thin poor soup without even salt.” Stalking off toward her hut, the woman muttered the whole way. Encountering the town mayor. “He thinks to make us soup! The man hasn’t even salt.”
“Soup?” cried the mayor. “Whose making soup?”
“The stranger in the square there. A poor soldier at that.”
The mayor immediately trotted over to join the lad and the knight at the fire. “What say, you? There is to be a soup? And in these hard times?”
“Stone soup!” piped up the lad. “A BIG pot of stone soup. Needs a pinch of salt but coming along.”
“My word” considered the mayor. “A soup, made of stones?
“Alas, your excellency. It’s what we have. Good enough, I’ll warrant. But for my own tastes, better when a bit of cabbage is in season. It seems cabbage grants it that certain dear flavor of my mother’s soup when I was a lad like this one. Reminds me of home.”
One by one the other villagers trickled over to see what was about.
“Cabbage. I myself like cabbage in my soup. “
“It needn’t be much. And it needn’t be good. In a soup, even a bit of rotting cabbage can take on quite a life of its own.” offered the knight.
“Well I haven’t much. But perhaps there’s a bit of cabbage in my larder. Let me check it.” Off went the mayor.
Just then the old woman returned with a small paper of salt. “Here soldier. If you’re to make soup out of common stones, it should HAVE salt.” she proclaimed emphatically as she dumped the small portion of salt into the water. “Give me that spoon.”
She knelt and swirled the water expertly drawing forth a bit and slurping it loudly. “At least it now tastes salt, as a soup should.”
A thin elderly man stepped forward and peered into the pot. “You say, you’ll share?”
“It’s poor enough. But yes old father. You can join us to dine this night.” Responded the knight.
“He says he’ll share.” Trembled the old man to the woman next. “Me, I’m not so fond of cabbage myself. I like carrots in my stew. I might have A carrot to pitch. I’ll get it”
The suspiciously portly woman noted. “You really cannot bring the flavor of a proper soup out without an onion. I don’t have a whole one. But some shreds to fling. It’ll brighten it quite a bit I think.”
“Aye. And you have to pitch to eat I’ll warrant” noted the stablemaster cynically.
“Not at all mate. We have little in this thin soup. But I know times are hard and you’re welcome to what we have here.” replied the knight. “If you have naught, then naught it is.”
“I didn’t say I had naught. What you must think of me. You twist my own words. Did I say I had naught? It’s a cold time sure enough. But I’m not without entirely. Criminy a few mealy potatoes can be spared. That will offer some body to this thin soup.”
And so the cabbage and the carrot and the onion shreds were added to the pot. And in a short while, potatoes too. The roiling water swirled and scent began to rise from the pot and waft throughout the village.
One by one the villagers crept out into the street with lit pitch torches and the area around the well brightened. “What’s that smell?” exclaimed one.
“It’s stone soup. They’ve made a soup of stones.” Answered another.
“ A soup. Of stones?”
“It is. Smells wonderful. I’m starving here.”
“When will it be done?” yet another.
And again a reply “It’s soup. It’ll be done when it’s done don’t you know.”
The knight bent over the bubbling pot and inhaled deeply. “Ahh. How I long for the days when there was meat aplenty for a fine soup as this.”
“Meat? You must be joking. We’ve had no meat for a moon.” offered a young monk.
“I say. True enough. But a poor old piece of salt pork I’ve kept by and by.” Offered another. “It’s a rind really. And it won’t make a meal for a mouse anyway. I just keep it to look at.”
“I’ve a scrap as well. It’s true not anything to brag on. But it’ll chew.” Offered yet again.
And so into the pot it went. And soon everyone was scrabbling about the village, scouring a pepper here and a mushroom there.
As the torches gathered the night village square took on a lighted cheerful countenance. And someone brought out a fiddle and began to play. Soon there was music and a bit of dancing started.
“Is it soup yet?” and again, “When shall we eat of the soup. The smell is driving me faint.”
Finally the knight ceremoniously tasted the soup with a hundred pairs of eyes watching his every move. Nodding he offered the spoon to the old crone, who nodded with sage approval, having a good claim on very nearly inventing the soup. “It’s fair enough soup, if I do say so. It’ll do right enough on this chill evening.” noted the crone with all due modesty.
The knight carefully fished out the two stones and slowly wiped them dry, carefully placing them back in their velvet bag. “Not to break anyone’s teeth.” to howls of laughter. “Bring your bowls then.” Instructed the knight. “There’s aplenty for all.
And indeed, everyone in the village ate their fill that good winter night.
After everyone was safely asleep and sated, a small group of villagers crept into the loft where the knight lay, and quietly slit his throat and removed the velvet bag.
In the morning, the Mayor thanked everyone for participating in their long developed plan for the first annual stone soup celebration and assured everyone of regular stone soup days in the future.
The grocer ran a special on “stone soup fixins and garnish,” in full compliance with their original “stone soup recipe.”
The butcher too announced that they had special packages of “stone soup” meat cuttings designed to the original specification and traceable back to the exact first stone soup.
The village pharmacist sold salt at two prices henceforth, regular common salt and premium stone soup savory salt.
The blacksmith, under license of the city, would make a sterling silver “stone soup pot and ladle” for anyone wealthy enough to afford it, and of course having the stone soup license.
And the village passed an ordinance severely restricting the ownership of stones of all sizes, and of course requiring that soup be made only of official village approved stones, to prevent any contamination or ill health effects, for the safety and welfare of the villagers. Thus serving as a barrier to random illegal stone soup operations.
A special sherriff’s detail was established to ensure compliance with the stone soup regulations and a standing stone soup court was established to hear cases of stone soup malfeasance. Plaintiff’s and defendants were required to be represented by a qualified stone soup barrister.
And they all lived happily ever after… in the area that came to be know as the land of the stoned. Unlicensed import or export of stones into our out of this area was severely punished.
And travelling soldiers were outlawed entirely.