Cold weather always makes me think of soup in one form or another. What makes soup such a treat in frigid weather? Well, obviously, it’s the steaming bowl of liquid and the ingredients in it. But what makes it such a family pleaser is its taste and the seasoning that goes into it.
Spices and herbs primarily are derived from growing plants, trees, seeds and flowers that have been around since the middle ages. Salt is an important spice as well, but also an exception. Salt is mineral-based and not from plant-life.
In days long past, crusaders and explorers roamed the lands and seas in search of treasures. In many cases these treasures turned out to be spices discovered in distant lands. They traveled from eastern lands to Jerusalem and, en-route, discovered and traded for these new-found tastes in seeds and powders, sometimes as far away as Africa. They brought them home to their kings and nobles, receiving special favors for their conquests. The cost of these spices was so great that they were often offered as gifts either to or from royalty.
In the Middle Ages salt was a highly sought after mineral, extremely expensive and to be enjoyed only by nobles. It was considered so valuable in England that it was stored in the Tower of London, a castle with a series of towers with one tower dedicated solely for the purpose of storing this valuable commodity.
There is no clear distinction between herbs and spices other than herbs are derived primarily from leaves and seeds while spices are from flowers, fruits or bark. While herbs may readily be grown by any enthusiastic gardener, we must rely on our spices, in most cases, from our local grocers.
I was inspired by my subject — soups — while visiting in Shipshewana over the weekend to watch the ice sculpturing and engage the ‘chili cook-off’ tent adjacent to The Davis Mercantile.
It was a busy day in the town and while I didn’t have soup for lunch (I opted instead for chicken and noodles at The Blue Gate) the chili smelled and looked fantastic.
Now mind me, I had just recently asked my wife to make chili — it seemed the right time — but she reminded me that over the holidays it was probably better to wait until later. She always knows best, and yes, with all she had to do for our holiday celebration with all our family and the cooking and baking, I understood- maybe next month because she makes the finest chili around. Yum!
Herb growing is easy in the winter as well as in the summer. Kits are available at retailers and growing instructions are simple. Kits will include the most popular types of herbs like basil, chives, cilantro, parsley, rosemary and thyme — the perfect match for your “homemade” soups or for that matter any other culinary delight.
Winter is far from over so get out your homemade soup recipes and “spice it up” with your favorite herbs and spices. Some of you may have had the forethought to dry your own herbs last fall.
Nothing is better to ward off a cold than a hot bowl of homemade soup seasoned just right.
Tom Yoder is a master gardener who lives in Goshen.