I recall years ago many realists complaining about fantasy stories in which people travelling by horseback ate stews and soups made from scratch over the fire. While I somewhat agreed with them, I didn’t fully agree with them. You see, I make soup all the time and while I’m not riding all day and building a fire to cook it, I know how to make it, and I’m certain it’s possible to do while travelling. All that’s required is the right circumstances.
A pot of soup feeds many mouths, and it doesn’t cost very much. All the goods (except one, the meat) can be carried without refrigeration and can remain edible for many days. The meat, however, will only last a few hours in hot weather unless it was first frozen and packed to keep it cold. On the other hand, meat is easily kept frozen for long-term storage when travelling in cold weather. Regardless of the weather, meat, such as rabbit, partridge or other animal, can be caught and cooked when needed.
From my experience, a soup can be made in two hours. Certainly, that’s a long time for some, but if others are busy setting up camp, one person can get the soup prepared, and when the fire is ready, it can start cooking while other chores are taking place.
The only equipment needed to make soup is a pot, a knife and a stick to stir.
I call my concoction Onion Soup. Why? That’s what all my soups start with. If I have an onion, I can make soup. There are many things that can be added; it all depends on what you have on hand. Below is my basic soup recipe. Sure, more can be added if desired, but this is the basics.
- Chop up one medium onion and drop it into a pot. If you have fat on hand, add it. I use butter, but lard or oil works. If you have nothing, add enough water to cover the bottom of the pot.
- Cut meat into small chunks the size of dice and add to pot. You don’t need a lot. I’ve used as little as 1/4 cup.
- Turn on burner or hang pot over fire. When it starts to sizzle, add about a cup of water, then add 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and 2 tablespoons of dried spice. I use dill, parley or Italian seasoning. You might prefer a different spice. If you use rosemary, do it sparingly. I heard a little goes a long way. I’ve also used fresh herbs, cut from plants on my window sill.
The rest of the ingredients certainly add to the soup, but if you don’t have one or don’t like it, skip it.
To the pot add:
- 3 cloves of garlic, sliced into small pieces or squished
- 2 sticks of celery, chopped
- 1 medium carrot, grated
- 1/4 cup of barley
- 3 cups of water
Bring to a boil, then simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Check and stir frequently. If the water gets too low, add more.
At the 1 1/2 hour mark, add one medium carrot, chopped. If I have and want to add Lima beans or green beans, I do it now.
Cook for 10 minutes on medium heat. Add 3 medium potatoes that have been diced, sliced or chopped – however, you want to cook them. Add other vegetables, such as corn and peas.
Add water if necessary to ensure it’s over the ingredients. If you like thick soup, barely cover the ingredients. If you have to feed an army and this soup needs to stretch, add more water.
Cook for 20 minutes. Pluck out a piece of potato, taste to see if it’s cooked. If it is, the soup is ready. If not, cook for another five minutes. Repeat test.
Note: I use frozen or fresh vegetables, so I don’t know how canned vegetables will work or how long it takes for them to cook to perfection.
Note: The grated carrot mixes with the other ingredients and makes a nice broth and thickens the soup.
Note: Home version: When I bake meat in the oven, I always baste it with water. Not only does this make the meat moist, it gives left-over liquid. I don’t make gravy, but I harvest the juice in a bottle and either store it in the fridge to be used within a few days or freeze it. Adding a bit of water to the pan after the meat has been removed gives more ‘meat juice’. I stir it to gather the flavour. I use this as broth when I’m making soup. Add it in the base stage.
That’s my onion soup. I’ve been making it for years. The characters in my fantasy story make it, too. My mother and grandmothers used to make similar soups, using the broth gathered from meats cooked for other meals. This broth, an onion and a slip of meat was the secret to their tasty soups. My father’s mother raised 17 children on made-from-scratch meals like this.
Biscuits complete a soup meal. My recipe for them is here: Fantasy Biscuits for The Trail.