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March 5, 2007

Soup to Reunite the Nation


There are few of us who would like to go to our graves with tombstones that read, “Here lies a man who put forth his fullest effort so that mankind might have never come together for good purpose.” Nearly all of us yearn to be remembered as someone who brought together humanity, who saw good in unity and bad in disharmony.


Most of us quickly realize that we are not cut out for this. Whether it’s an aptitude for mathematics or for misanthropy, few of us will be remembered for having brought people together.


Our imaginations provide us a keen opportunity to play God, however. We might not be able to unite people in a physical sense, but we are free to borrow devices from Hollywood and bring together symbols of people. In this way, we can heal lingering scars from the American Civil War.


We start, as we so often do, by soaking beans. For this, we use the Great Northern bean. Why this one? Well, if you wish to unite a nation ripped in sunder, you must combine its best parts. The Great Northern bean is a hard-working bean, a bean with a personality as practical as the northern Midwesterners who grow it. You may shut it into a pot of water overnight, and it will understand what is expected of it. It will soak in the water, swell, and prepare itself for cooking the next day.


We next boil chicken, a meat as unlikely to open historic wounds as any (with the possible exception of ham). You may pick your cut, but the wise understand that it is best to do this thing while the meat is still attached to the bone.


The method for this is simple. Boil water, add chicken, wait a few moments. When chicken is mostly cooked (exactitude is not needed, because the chicken meat will soon enough find itself immersed in hot liquid), remove it from the water and allow it to cool. Place the cooling water in the refrigerator for a few moments.


When the chicken has cooled, pull it off the bone and shred it. Set this aside.


Inside your refrigerator, the fat and grease will have formed a scum on top on your cooking water. Scrape this away. Scum is an impediment to rebuilding your nation.


Reheat your liquid to boiling and add the beans. Each bean, full of its Midwestern sense of sobriety, will go about fulfilling its purpose, bathing in boiling water until softened.


In a separate pan, it is time to start to build our Southern foundation, by softening garlic and onion in olive oil. Add stewed tomatoes, cayenne pepper and a bay leaf.  Stir these up and ask yourself what might give this dish a distinctive Southern touch.


Okra - or, if you were to speak certain African languages - gumbo.


A thought strikes you . . .  what about frozen corn? Yes, my friend, frozen corn has a place here also.


But, now, you begin to see your destiny. You will unite the nation under the banner of soup – southern-flavored stew and Great Northern beans.


Stir together all of your vegetables and also your chicken. Allow this to bubble while the beans cook. It is almost as though the two pots of ingredients are speaking to each other, perhaps hosting yet another Constitutional Convention, except this time with tastier results.


You are now looking at me through your mind’s eye. There is something puzzling you, something that you cannot put your fingers on. Yes, you again come to understand – isn’t there usually some kind of shrimp involved?


No, this is no Yankee double-cross. Add cooked shrimp when the beans are nearly soft.


It might strike you that this is done to prevent the shrimp from becoming overcooked and rubbery, but this is not the case. Once the shrimp is added, from your pan of bubbling comes the sound of music – the shrimp and okra have broken out washboard and accordion for an impromptu zydeco session. Your beans can hear this, and although the Great Northern is a stoic bean, it has its own feelings and yearnings. It doesn’t want to work through too much of the party.


Fulfill its wishes. Remove your beans from the burner, drain and allow them to join the party. Look at your pot. The only way it could be any more a melting pot is if it were blasted to the limits of its ability to retain solid form in heat.


Let freedom ring.


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