A twist on potlucks, a soup party is a winter tradition nourishes friendships as well as bodies.
By Kathy Gunst
Mar 11 2014
A Sunday-night soup party at the home of Kathy Gunst and her husband, John Rudolph.Photo Credit : Kristin Teig
It’s dark outside, and the thermometer registers a bone-chilling 5 degrees above zero, with a whipping wind. Under normal conditions I’d hunker down and not even consider leaving the house. But this is the second Sunday of the month, and that means there’s soup to be made and friends to see, thanks to a beloved tradition in our northern New England seacoast community.
What began as a glorified potluck supper has evolved into an eagerly anticipated monthly gathering where we share good conversation, deepen our friendships, and spice up winter with new recipes and flavors. The rules are simple: Everyone cooks up a large pot of their favorite soup. A different couple hosts the party each month, offering wine and beer, salad, bread, and a simple dessert. At the end of the night we divide up the leftovers, providing meals for the week to come.
The idea began with my friend Hope Murphy. “Winter was breathing down our necks, and I was thinking about making soup,” she says. “I love to make it, but hate having to eat the same food all week. So I thought about friends in the same predicament and wondered, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could swap leftovers?’”
When Hope proposed the idea to five food-loving couples, everyone immediately signed on. And now the monthly gathering has become a reason to savor the cold-weather months when we can settle in and enjoy one another’s company. We’re a varied group: writers, journalists, artists, woodworkers, a cartoonist, and university professors. We all live in Seacoast Maine and New Hampshire, and although we all knew Hope and her husband, Brad Christo, some of us had met only once or twice.
As a group, we quickly developed rituals. We’ve found that Sunday night is ideal for these gatherings—a perfect, relaxed way to end the week and start the next. After a glass of wine, we go around the kitchen and “introduce” our soups, focusing on ingredients, technique, and inspiration. Then, with introductions over, it’s time to sample each dish. After three seasons, it’s clear that the quality of the soups gets better every year. Maybe it’s peer pressure, or just a better understanding of what distinguishes a great soup. Now our meals are a smorgasbord of tastes—some thick and spicy, others mild and puréed. We’ve had Thai-style coconut soup, a beef stew with local root vegetables and ale, Mexican-style tortilla soup, and seafood chowder. Surprisingly, we’ve never had duplicates, despite never discussing the menu ahead of time.
Our other ritual revolves around cartoons. John Klossner, a freelance cartoonist whose work appears in The New Yorker and other publications, brings an original captionless cartoon to each soup supper, and, throughout the night, we take turns writing possible captions. As dessert is served, we read the captions aloud, laughing at how good (and truly terrible) they are.
Hope Murphy sums it up this way: “Entertaining is on the decline. It’s hard for people to squeeze in the time to do it, and I really miss it. What I love most about these soup suppers is that we all own this event. It’s not me entertaining, or whoever is hosting it; the soup suppers belong to all of us.”