Soup in the Wild…

Oddly, many of my most vivid recollections and memories are anchored to food.

Should I happen across an ice cream sandwich, parslied potatoes, chocolate cake with white icing, pizza strips…I am reminded instantly of steel cafeteria trays, small glass bottles of milk that cost 4 cents each…and of course, the angst that goes along with being 12 years old in junior high school. Girls, who previously seemed OK with my existence, had apparently had a meeting…

 I have been known to make a chocolate sheet cake with white icing, cut it into proper squares, and serve them on waxed paper, but only in September; one wants also to recollect the additional angst of the summer being over, and returning to school. The Full Angst Effect.

And here is a similar story from adulthood; this one is angst-free.

I’ve spent several years in the oddly satisfying hobby of civil war re-enacting. I’m sort of retired now, but I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the outdoors. It is especially good for families with kids; it provides a perfect environment for them to spend whole days running and playing in complete freedom, with someone nearby at all times.

On one October weekend years ago, I was attending an event in Uxbridge, Mass. The weather was spectacular; clear blue sky, brilliant maple leaves everywhere; the air was perfectly warm and perfectly cool at the same time. Food prepared over an open fire, and fine comfortable conditions for sleeping in camp.

Saturday nights were the very best. A  roaring fire, encircled by good friends, all with beverage of choice in hand; tucked into your woolen greatcoat against the chill. Music, sudden bursts of standup comedy, good stories…

But this particular Saturday had brought sudden rain, which quickly turned to a full gale. All the campfires were drowned out, tents were pulled up by the wind, and many chose the better part of valor and packed it in. In my company, the 21st Mississippi, we decided that we’d be just as drowned in breaking camp, so opted to hold on. Tent floors were all washed through, and for those who slept on the ground it would be a truly miserable night. I was an officer, and could get away with a folding cot; I would be fine as long as the tent held on.

By late afternoon, we were huddled miserably under our tent fly. There was no hope of supper; we were reduced to crackers and cold coffee ( with a bit of Jameson’s, strictly for emergency use only…)

And then, in the distance… a lone SUV was seen climbing the long road up to our camp. All who were going were long gone, so we wondered who might be unhinged enough to be driving towards this mess of their own free will.

It was Paulette, Gary‘s wife. Gary was one of our privates ( and a VP of Putnam Investments in the real world ) Paulette usually attended events, but never stayed in camp; day-trip only. Gary slept in two woolen blankets on the ground, and that was a bit too far for her.

She backed her SUV into camp, opened the hatch…and started unloading dutch ovens. Five altogether; piping hot, they traveled on cooling racks and didn’t lose a drop in transport.

I’m sure that the Berlin Airlift never received a warmer welcome.

She had made us supper, all from scratch; knew that we would not have gone home, and drove it all out to us.

She also had a fever of 104 the whole time.

One oven had apple cobbler; another two with corn bread made with corn cut right off the cob, and jalapenos; one with biscuits, and one with the main course; a chunky butternut squash soup, with butter beans and ham; and a half-gallon of hot mulled cider.

We were all saved; we devoured that meal with Pentecostal abandon. We praised Paulette to the very skies. We even shared some with a few Yankee friends who wondered what all the ruckus was about; they, in turn, worshipped at Paulette’s fevered feet.

It was really, really good.

And when it was all gone, Pvt. Gary drove her 20 miles home, saw her safely to bed; then drove 20 miles back…and slept in two wet woolen blankets in the mud.

Some people…always seem to rise above circumstance.

I have actually dreamt about that soup. That soup has been fondly recalled over many campfires since, and people still speak of the cornbread in hushed tones. Paulette launched herself into culinary history that day, and when asked for the recipes…she doesn’t exactly recall. She was winging it.

That actually makes it even better.


Published in: on July 20, 2012 at 2:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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